I’d forgotten that P. K. Page, one of Canada’s finest poets, spent much of her youth in Calgary. In the Twenties, she and her family lived in what we now call the Beltline, and later in Elbow Park. She spent summers on a corner of the Tsuu T’ina reserve, then used by the Canadian Forces and called Sarcee Camp. A place not far from where I grew up in southwest Calgary.
Sandra Djwa’s new biography Journey With No Maps charts Page’s life as an artist. I read the Calgary chapter slowly, lingering in the landscape of Pat Page’s childhood. Not just the recognizable geography of streets and avenues, but the interior world of an imaginative child growing up in a town far away from the so-called centre of things.
I grew up in Calgary almost fifty years after P. K. Page, but aspects of her childhood feel deeply familiar. The hours she passed in the public library, discovering art and artists. The makeshift studio she and her girlfriend carved out in her friend’s basement, where they wrote, sketched and dreamed. The books her mother gave to her. The school magazine she edited and where her essays were published. The sandy banks of the Elbow River and the Rocky Mountain foothills where she summered. These places and experiences fed my imagination, too.
As a teenager, I was convinced literature was written in other places, not Calgary. No one ever told me about P. K. Page. Instead, I fixed my eyes on the horizon and planned my escape. Real writers lived anywhere but here.
Of course, I know better now.
At eighteen, P. K. Page moved away from Calgary and never returned here to live. I left after high school, too, but came back in my mid-twenties. These days, as I write at my desk not far from the old Sarcee Camp, I find myself thinking about P. K. Page, and this place that shaped her artistic sensibilities, and mine. Fertile ground, after all.