Posted by Pamela Richardson
Washita by Patrick Lane
Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, BC. 2014
If you are looking for new poems from a BC writer that are both masterful yet accessible for adolescent readers and writers then Patrick Lane’s more recent collection, Washita, is a wonderful selection. His imagery, often drawn from the natural world of BC and Western Canada is relatable and evocative, and his language is powerful, often direct and not overly obscure (“I woke up on Six Mile Creek, a willow grouse falling from the sky”) helping us to get to the emotional truth of a moment. He generously provides a glossary at the end to give context for more obscure references, which adds an interesting historical and linguistic layer and commentary. In this glossary we learn that a washita is a sharpening stone fashioned out of white quartz rock from the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.
The collection itself was fashioned extremely slowly, as Lane explains in the afterwards to the book. Due to a frozen right shoulder he could not raise his right hand to the keyboard. Lane, a right-handed, one-fingered typist, painstakingly crafted each poem using his non-dominant left index finger. Moreover, his left hand (and right side of his brain) did not know, as his right-hand did, where the letters on the keyboard were and so he had to search out each letter, each time, for each word: T—h—e…. Even simple little words took a while. This gave him lots of time to consider what he wanted to say and how. This writing process brings a stillness and meditative quality to the work and a sense of the poems being utterly balanced.
I had the chance to hear Patrick Lane read from this collection at the book’s launch in the Fall of 2014 in Victoria. Lane is a superb reader of his own work. While I don’t have a clip from Washita, I recommend clips such as this one to hear him read his work.