Twenty-five years ago today, West Coast poet Pat Lowther was brutally murdered by her husband and fellow poet, Roy Lowther. During her lifetime (1935-1975) she published three books of poetry: The Difficult Flowring (1968), The Age of the Bird (1972) and Milk Stone (1974). Three more volumes of verse were published posthumously: A Stone Diary (1977), Final Instructions (1980) and Time Capsule (1997). Lowther was a poet with a dazzling future.
In 1974, she became the first co-chairwoman of the League of Canadian Poets. But she would not live to serve the second year of her term. In September, 1975, Pat was named to teach George McWhirtier's creative writing class at University of British Columbia while he was on sabbatical. She had enough time to complete her preparations for the course, but did not live to teach it. Pat was also appointed to the British Columbia Arts Council's Advisory Board. And throughout all these accomplishments she loved, and refused to leave, Roy.
There were 117 bloodstains in the bedroom they shared -- but no body, because Roy removed it and dumped it into Vancouver's Furry Creek, near where the couple had honeymooned in the summer of 1963. How many blows of a household hammer to Pat's head in the middle of the night did it take to satisfy the man who was not only Pat's killer, but her husband, lover and father of two of her children?
A new biography, Pat Lowther's Continent, by Toby Brooks, offers a spellbinding account of an outstanding poet, as totally dedicated to her art as she was to life, a writer who made her own rules.
Brooks writes: "It's unfortunate that second wives don't ask first wives for letters of reference." Roy Lowther had tried to strangle his first wife, but this was not revealed until after Pat was murdered. But if Pat had been handed such a reference on a gold plate, she would have pushed it aside. Roy was besotted with Pat, as he had been at one time with his first wife. But according to Brooks, Roy Lowther had one big problem -- he was not fond of himself and he interpreted Pat's successes as his failures.
Brooks's enticing account of the silencing of Pat Lowther weaves the essentials of Pat's life and work into a cohesive whole, of which Roy and their two families are a crucial part. (Pat had two children from her first marriage, Alan and Kathy; Roy had one daughter, Ruth. Together, they had two daughters, Beth and Chris, who were 9 and 7 respectively on the night of their mother's murder.)
But Brooks treads cautiously on this continent that Pat created. On occasion, Roy and Pat did work together successfully. They shared an NDP philosophy. But Roy was seeking a utopian communist reality, while Pat was more concerned with individual freedom. In Brooks's wondrous chapter The Egg of Death, the marriage vows that Pat and Roy once took reverberate -- "For better or worse, for rich or for poor, until death do us part" -- like the pounding of a hammer delivered by the lover/husband/poet. Brooks juxtaposes each blow with a Pat Lowther poem or poetic achievement.
In the last year of her life, Pat Lowther was just beginning to establish herself as a senior poet in this country. She spoke for Canadian women and she spoke for the working class. She developed as a poet during the 1960s, nurtured and encouraged by fellow poets Margaret Atwood, Dorothy Livesay, Miriam Waddington, Milton Acorn, Brian Brett, Pat Lane, Seymour Mayne and Joe Rosenblatt. The tribe was strong and deeply committed; bill bissett said of Pat, "I do think there is a place where poetry and politics are the same, and I think Pat was defending that place."
I ask myself why Brooks's take on the silencing of Pat Lowther reminds me of the self-imposed silence of the late A. M. Klein (1909-1972). Subsequent to publishing his two most celebrated books, The Rocking Chair (poems about Quebec, in 1948) and The Second Scroll (an allegorical novel, in 1951), Klein chose silence as a way of life. Then, in the mid-1950s, he suffered a devastating mental breakdown, lapsing into silence for the final 17 years of his life. Although Klein's silencing was self-imposed, while Lowther's was brutally administered, the words of both have been resurrected in the form of posthumous publications.
Where there is death, there is the promise of rebirth, which brings to mind the Jewish idiom " Genug shoyn," or, "Silence speaks." Sharon Abron Drache's most recent book is The Golden Ghetto. Pat Lowther's Continent , by Toby Brooks, is published by gynergy books.