In The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things, Lorna Crozier waxes poetic about dozens of unlikely candidates for literary celebration, including bobby pins, the ironing board and Jell-O. But first, she pauses for a dedication to her own everyday marvel. “To Patrick. We are at home with one another; we are each other’s home.”
It might seem like a bit of an oxymoron, but Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier are B.C.’s poetry power couple: He’s written 27 books of poetry as well as a novel, a book of short stories and a memoir; she’s published 15 books of poetry, a memoir, and now this delectable collection. They have each won a slew of prizes, including the Governor-General’s Award. Together for 34 years, married for 12, they are teachers, mentors, literary festival mainstays.
On Saturday night at the Vancouver Writers Fest, Ms. Crozier will join Margaret Atwood, Jane Urquhart, Susan Musgrave and others for a tribute to her husband, who recently published The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, with more than 400 poems written over 50 years. “He’s such a damn fine writer,” Ms. Crozier says. “Her gifts were so remarkable and still are,” Mr. Lane says in a separate interview.
They first met in 1976 when Mr. Lane – already a well-known poet – was speaking at a poetry workshop in Regina. Ms. Crozier, then a high school teacher in Swift Current who wrote some poetry, drove the two-and-a-half hours for the event, expecting “a fat old guy” based on his book jacket photo. Both were instantly smitten. “She was wearing a kind of blue jean jumpsuit that went from her crotch to just between her breasts,” recalls Mr. Lane. “And the whole time I was there, I just wanted to go zip.”
But, alas, our protagonists were married to other people at the time, so they went home to their respective spouses, no vows broken. Then, two years later, Mr. Lane returned to Regina as a keynote speaker for a weekend poetry conference. Ms. Crozier was there. “That was it, when that was over, the weekend was over, we were together,” says Mr. Lane, now 73. They left their spouses and have been together ever since. They have survived (but almost didn’t) Mr. Lane’s alcoholism, as well as his rehab, childhood ghosts nagging at them both, and some nasty fights, including one where they separately stormed out of their own dinner party, leaving the guests – among them some notable writers – wondering what to do (the guests finished the wine and left). In 2000, after Mr. Lane got sober, he proposed to Ms. Crozier. He had proposed before, but this was different. “I was sober and our life was starting in a new way,” Mr. Lane says over the phone from their home. Neither remembers their exact anniversary; they generally pick a weekend late in August to mark it.
They live in a house in North Saanich, north of Victoria, and write there in separate offices. They do not interact much through the day, and often don’t talk to the other about what they are working on. Mr. Lane, for example, is writing a new novel, but has told his wife almost nothing about it, not even what it is about, although he did read her a short passage “more to reassure myself than to reassure her, and she listened to it and said, ‘That’s lovely,’ which is all I really wanted from her.” That is not to say they do not critically read and even edit each other’s work. “He is definitely my best first reader. I would feel very vulnerable sending something out before Patrick’s eye cast over it, because I really respect and honour his judgment of writing.”
Ms. Crozier’s development as a writer, she believes, has been crucial to the success of their relationship. “If I hadn’t become a better writer, we wouldn’t be together. I would have sensed by the way Patrick would have spoken to me about my poems that he didn’t think they were good enough and I wouldn’t have been able to coexist in that kind of unequal relationship.” He is also an inspiration. It is him, not Tom Cruise or Daniel Craig, she says, she thinks about when she writes erotic poetry. It was also Mr. Lane who inspired her My Last Erotic Poem, with lines such as, “We have to wear our glasses to see down there! / When you whisper what you want I can’t hear, / but do it anyway, and somehow get it right. Face it, / some nights we’d rather eat a Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar / or watch a movie starring Nick Nolte who looks worse than us.” Ms. Crozier, 64, will soon retire from her teaching position at the University of Victoria. And she’s working on something new: a song cycle. They try not to compete, publishing books in separate years, so they don’t have to go up against each other for a prize.
“Those kinds of tensions would be awkward and hard,” Mr. Lane says.
On Saturday night at the tribute, Ms. Crozier plans to read three poems: one she wrote early in their relationship, a more recent love poem, and one of Mr. Lane’s. But she will not be surprising him with anything new for the occasion.
“I can’t show it to him for advice,” she laughs. “He can’t tell me if it’s crummy or if it works.”