Author Tags: Essentials 2010, Poetry, Women
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In medieval times, villages banished independent women who knew too much, or those who enacted their own sexual destinies. Sometimes these women were burned as witches. In our global village, they are still often beaten and raped. Or husbands kill them. Nary a week goes by when some ghastly story about violence against women is not in the news. The germ of violence against women is so deeply imbedded in the male psyche that the only medicine society can prescribe seems to be widespread denial. But this is not true with poet Pat Lowther, who was murdered by her husband with a hammer in 1975, and people are still asking about her.
Pat Lowther was born Patricia Louise Tinmuth in 1935. She grew up in North Vancouver in a working class environment and left school at 16. At 18 she married Bill Domphousse, a fellow worker at the North Vancouver Shipbuilding Company. They had two children and subsequently divorced. In 1963, she married Roy Armstrong Lowther, a public school teacher, an aspiring writer and a left-wing political activist. He was eventually dismissed from his teaching job due to his radical politics. Encouraged by other writers such as Pat Lane and Dorothy Livesay, Pat Lowther published her first collection of poems in 1968. Six years and two more books later, she was teaching at UBC and had been elected co-chair of the Canadian League of Poets. One prominent critic declared, “She was on the edge of whatever fame and success Canadian poetry had to offer.”
On October 15, 1975, Pat Lowther’s body was discovered five kilometres south of Britannia Beach at Furry Creek, badly decomposed. Police discovered 117 bloodspots on the walls of Pat and Roy Lowther’s bedroom. Crown prosecutor John Hall argued that Roy Lowther, also a poet, was jealous of his wife’s success and angered by an extra-marital liaison. He killed her with blows from a hammer. The hammer in question and the couple’s mattress were taken by Roy Lowther to Mayne Island, where the mattress had been washed on both sides. Reddish stains remained. He suggested they could be menstrual blood. Roy Lowther was convicted of the crime.
bill bissett co-published Pat Lowther’s first book, This Difficult Flowring (1968). Allan Safarik published her The Age of the Bird (1972). Lowther’s life and death is also the focus for her daughter Christine Lowther’s first poetry collection, New Power (1999) and the subject for Keith Harrison’s Furry Creek: A True-Life Novel (1999). Toby Brooks of Ottawa published Pat Lowther’s Continent: Her Life and Work (2000). Christine Wiesenthal published The Half-Lives of Pat Lowther (2005). Every year the Pat Lowther Memorial Award is presented for the best book by a female poet in Canada. She does not go away.
In medieval times, villages banished independent women who knew too much, women who didn’t need men or women who enacted their own sexual destinies. Sometimes these women were burned as witches. In our global village, we beat them up. Or rape them. Or husbands kill them. Nary a week goes by when some ghastly story about violence against women isn’t in the news. So many prostitutes are murdered in our cities each year that their disappearances are barely reported. The germ of violence against women is so deeply imbedded in the male psyche that the only medicine society can prescribe seems to be widespread denial. That’s why the murder of poet Pat Lowther is so significant. She was killed with a hammer and 25 years later people are still asking about her. She doesn’t go away. Every year the Pat Lowther Prize is awarded for the best book by a female poet in Canada.
Pat Lowther was born Patricia Louise Tinmuth in 1935. She grew up in North Vancouver in a working class environment and left school at 16. At 18 she married Bill Domphousse, a fellow worker at the North Vancouver Shipbuilding Company. They had two children and were divorced. In 1963 she married Roy Armstrong Lowther, a public school teacher, an aspiring writer and a left-wing political activist. He was eventually dismissed due to his radical politics. Encouraged by other writers such as Pat Lane and Dorothy Livesay, Pat Lowther published her first collection of poems in 1968. Six years and two more books later, she was teaching at UBC and had been elected co-chair of the Canadian League of Poets. One prominent critic declared, “she was on the edge of whatever fame and success Canadian poetry had to offer.”
On October 15, 1975, Pat Lowther’s body was discovered five kilometres south of Britannia Beach at Furry Creek, badly decomposed. Police discovered 117 bloodspots on the walls of the couple’s bedroom. Crown prosecutor John Hall successfully argued that Roy Lowther, also a poet, was jealous of his wife’s success and angered by an extra-marital liaison. He killed her with blows from a hammer. The hammer in question and the couple’s mattress were taken by Roy Lowther to Mayne Island, where the mattress had been washed on both sides. Reddish stains remained. He suggested they could be menstrual blood. Roy Lowther was convicted of the crime.
Oxford University Press published a posthumous collection, A Stone Diary, in 1977. A collection of Pat Lowther’s poetry appeared as an issue of West Coast Review in 1980, edited by Dona Sturmanis and Fred Candelaria. In 1997, Polestar Press issued a collection of her posthumous poems, Time Capsule. Pat Lowther’s life and death is also the focus for her daughter Christine Lowther’s first poetry collection, New Power (Broken Jaw $12.95) and the subject for Keith Harrison’s Furry Creek: A True-Life Novel (Oolichan $17.95). Lowther’s daughter Beth has been working on Pat Lowther’s memoirs and several biographies have long been in the works. [See Keith Harrison] Toby Brooks of Ottawa published Pat Lowther's Continent: Her Life and Work (Toronto: gynergy books c/o Balmur Publishing, 2000). In 2005, Christine Wiesenthal published The Half-Lives of Pat Lowther (UTP), a combination of biographical information and literary analysis. [See Joan Givner review below for more biographical details]
This Difficult Flowring (Very Stone House, 1968). Illustrated by S. Slutsky,
The Age of the Bird (Blackfish Press, 1972).
Milk Stone (Ottawa: Borealis Press, 1974).
A Stone Diary (Oxford, 1977).
Final Instructions (West Coast Review XV/2 and Orca Sound, 1980). Edited and with an introduction by Dona Sturmanis & Fred Candelaria.
Time Capsule (Polestar, 1997).
A Water Clock. Printed by Morriss Printing on the occasion of a reading for The Pat Lowther Benefit Endowment Fund, held in Vancouver on April 25, 1985 by The League of Canadian Poets. 126 copies printed.
Time Capsule ($24.95)
“I think we (poets) are like a psychic fourth estate, a conscious newspaper telling you what's been happening inside your head while you weren't noticing.” —PAT LOWTHER
Vancouver-Born Poet Pat Lowther was brutally murdered by her husband in 1975. Her body was discovered in Furry Creek, three miles south of Britannia Beach. Dorothy Livesay called her tragic death “a body blow to the cause of poetry in Canada.” Twenty-one years later her daughter found an unpublished manuscript in an attic called Time Capsule. This spring Polestar Press is publishing Time Capsule ($24.95), Lowther's last literary legacy following two posthumous books in 1977 and 1980.
At the time of her death, Lowther's third volume of poetry Milk Stone (1974) had been well received, she was teaching Creative Writing at UBC and had been elected co chair of the Canadian League of Poets. According to critic Robert Fulford, Lowther, 40, was “superbly prepared to move to a more central position in current Canadian literature.” Her death occurred when “she was on the edge of whatever fame and success Canadian poetry has to offer.”
Pat Lowther, born Patricia Louise Timmuth, was the eldest child of working class parents in North Vancouver. Her concerns varied from observations of the natural world, to love and intimate relationships, to revolution in South America and feminist politics. Roy Lowther, a teacher and left wing activist, was convicted of her murder in 1977. The Pat Lowther Poetry Prize for best first collection by a female poet is named in her honour.
ISBN = 1 896095 25 9
The Half-Lives of Pat Lowther (UTP $65)
Vancouver-born Pat Lowther was bludgeoned to death at the age of forty by her husband just as she was coming into her full strength as a poet. The violence of her death and the weeks of suspense between her disappearance and the discovery of her body brought her a measure of fame and critical attention disproportionate to her relatively small output. In the immediate aftermath of her death in 1975, Peter Gzowski orchestrated a tribute on FM radio, and there was an outpouring of elegies by her fellow poets. In the thirty years since then, an annual prize in Lowther’s name has been awarded by the League of Canadian Poets to a female poet; there has been a documentary film, Watermarks; a selection of her published and previously unpublished work, Time Capsule (1997); a novelistic biography Furry Creek (1999) by Keith Harrison; a traditional biography, Pat Lowther’s Continent: Her Life and Work (2000) by Toby Brooks; and other biographies and a memoir are reportedly in the works.
The Half-Lives of Pat Lowther (UTP $65) by University of Alberta English professor Christine Wiesenthal is part scholarly analysis and part biography and the most comprehensive study so far. The title (half-life is a scientific term denoting the transformation of elemental energy into something smaller than its original luminous molecular whole) indicates Wiesenthal’s purpose in re-examining the history of Lowther’s posthumous legacies. She explores the social and political forces that shaped Lowther’s career, contributed to her death, and that still complicate the evaluation of her work. In recent years the practice of biography has been extended from the simple writing of “A Life” to a new form or sub-genre that merges literary, historical and cultural analysis. If every genre demands its own set of canonical texts, Lowther’s story with its literary, political, and legal ramifications yields excellent material for this method.
In an early chapter, Wiesenthal provides a sophisticated reading of Roy Lowther’s trial, an event so marked by sensation that it has entered local legal history. The crown prosecutor, in an incredible gesture, introduced Lowther’s skull and the hammer that smashed it as evidence. He mesmerized the jury during the defense counsel’s arguments by handing both objects, actually fitting the hammer into the hollows in the skull. The trial, described in the Vancouver Sun under the headline ‘Verses and Verdicts,’ was also noteworthy for the extent that literature crept into the proceedings. The jury was initiated into the world of small literary magazines; Lowther’s poems, and poems that her long distance lover, Eugene McNamara, wrote to and about her, were introduced as evidence. He was a married professor at the University of Windsor and they had met at conferences. She was reckless about leaving his letters around and perhaps this was deliberate taunting, although she didn't have much privacy. The judge invoked the standards of the so-called New Critics in his instructions to the jury about the interpretation of the poems; and Roy Lowther used the proceedings as a platform for his own poetic theories, including an indictment of what he saw as “an intellectual kind of poetry.”
In a year during which Canadians have been over-exposed by the media to accounts of celebrity murderers, Wiesenthal’s reading of the Roy Lowther case is both highly relevant and exemplary. Notwithstanding the fact that Roy Lowther was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic before the marriage, and that his jealousy was personal in nature, Wiesenthal sees more in the murder than the momentary outburst of an individual madman. She demonstrates clearly that his private, domestic fury was fanned and shaped by broader culture wars and class tensions.
As an unappreciated poet, writing unfashionable “amateur” poetry, Roy Lowther was enraged not only by his wife’s success but by the kind of poetry she was writing and by her entry into the literary establishment—an entry marked by a widening circle of friends among influential editors and poets; a Canada Council grant; membership on a newly-appointed B.C. Interim Arts Board; a teaching job at UBC (a temporary sessional position with a $4,500 stipend) and her election as co-chair of the Canadian League of Poets. The acquisition of a brief-case became in his eyes the hated symbol of her growing professionalism. He confessed that after he disposed of the body, he flung the briefcase as far as he could into the bushes. It is a sad irony that the brief-case seems to have been the one private repository of her working papers for a writer who had no office, room or desk of her own.
The tendency of every prominent artist after death to become a contested site is amply illustrated by the acrimonious exchanges that followed the Gzowski radio tribute. Here, too, the insider-outsider theme ran through the rancorous charges, often in a way diametrically opposed to Roy Lowther’s assessment. Her one-time friend, Milton Acorn, characterized Lowther as an exile, marginalized by the Toronto-centric literary elite. Similar disagreements continue to emerge over the evaluation of Lowther’s talent, and Wiesenthal examines them under the heading “Canonicity and the `Cult of the Victim.’” One critic sees the violent death as an event that raised a poet of mediocre talent to a place among the “saints in CanLit heaven.” Another uses the death to read the poetry as prescient, and the poet as a prophet of her own doom. Others urge resistance to allowing the death to become a factor in the complicated process of judging the poetry. Wiesenthal sensibly argues for a distinction between the elevation of the woman to iconic status, and canonization of the literary artist.
The scholarly analyses in the first section of the book give way in later sections to more traditional biographical narratives. Wiesenthal tracks Lowther’s working class ancestry and background, her decision to quit school at sixteen, her first marriage two years later, the birth of her first child at nineteen, divorce, custody battles, political activism, a second marriage, more children, and the disastrous deterioration of the marriage. Throughout all this, the one constant was Lowther’s persistence in learning her craft, growing as an artist, and publishing her work.
Wiesenthal ends her study on a note that highlights the poignancy of Lowther’s death. She describes Lowther on her fortieth birthday. She had returned to Vancouver after a successful reading tour on Prince Edward Island, packed up her children and was enjoying a family holiday on Mayne Island. She celebrated her birthday there on July 29th. “With her forties stretching before her,” Wiesenthal notes, “she was beginning again, as she’d once told Dorothy Livesay, to see openings for herself.” A Stone Diary, the book she had just submitted to Oxford University Press was accepted on September 9th. She died two weeks later. Roy Lowther died in 1985 in prison. 080203635X
--by Joan Givner
[BCBW 2005] "Poetry"
COMMEMORATION OF WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN PAT LOWTHER’S 73RD BIRTHDAY
from Toby Brooks
I organized the eighth birthday tribute to the late Pat Lowther, “Earth, Air, Stone and Pat Lowther,” on July 30, 2008, at Mother Tongue Books in Ottawa. Had she been allowed to live out her life in the usual way, Pat would have celebrated her 73rd birthday on July 29.
Six Ottawa poets paid tribute to Pat by reading their work and hers while emphasizing a green theme. Participating poets were: Ronnie Brown, Michelle Desbarats, Colin Morton, Susan McMaster, Susan Robertson and E. Russell Smith. The bookstore was filled to overflowing with standing room only available by the end. The Program was as follows:
Pat’s poems: “The Dig,” “May Chant”
Ronnie’s poems: “April’s Fools,” “Fall 1942,” “Dream Catcher,” “Border Notations”
Pat’s poems: “Song,” “Coast Range”
Michelle’s poems: “Dish,” “Lessons in Invisibility,” “What Visited”
Pat’s poem: “Notes from Furry Creek”
Susan’s poems: “Asking Only”, “Old Cedar,” “Lately She Remembers: January Sleet”
Pat’s poems: “Anemone”, “Octopus”, “Hermit Crabs,” “Craneflies in Their Season”
Colin’s will read poem sequences from “The Local Cluster” and “Boundary Issues”
Susan Robertson and Toby Brooks reading together part of
Pat’s poem: “In the Continent Behind My Eyes”
Susan’s poems: “Landscape”, “Eight Day Pickles,” “Roxa Counts Her Eggs”
E. Russell Smith
Pat’s poems: “Riding Past,” “Moving South” “Early Winters”
Russell’s poems: “Black Ice,“ ”Why We Stand Facing South,” Winter Reigns”
Because I consider “In the Continent Behind My Eyes” Pat’s hallmark poem, Susan Robertson and I read part of that long poem together. In this poem, Pat guides us along the workings of her mind, considers both the natural and urban landscape, and struggles to project her mind into what it would have been like to live as the Ice Age approached. She mentions her “great brother.” Although she does not name him, readers of her work will recognize that it is Pablo Neruda, the late Chilean poet. The poem also has childhood recollections and some surprising puns such as, asking the wind to hone her “into a blade of glass” giving pause to Walt Whitman lovers.
As you probably know that Pat Lowther was just becoming recognized as a poet, when she was murdered by her husband, Roy Lowther. He was an aspiring poet and there is reason to believe that he was jealous of her growing success. While her first two books had been published by small presses, in 1975, at the time of her death, Pat was negotiating with Oxford University Press for publication of her third book, A Stone Diary.
The book was released in 1977.
It took several years for Pat’s friends in the poetry community to recover from their distress. When the grief had cleared a little, in 1981, The League of Canadian Poets (TLCP) created the Pat Lowther Award for the best book of poetry written by a woman that year. The award is announced at TLCP’s Annual Meeting.
HISTORY OF THE TRIBUTES
In 1995, with the help of Blaine Marchand, I organized the first Pat Lowther Tribute, held at the League AGM. That was a strong experience for me as I met Pat’s youngest daughter, Christine Lowther. I came away from the experience knowing that I had to write Pat’s biography. It was published by gynergy books in 2000. The next two birthday tributes were held in private gardens in Toronto. The year 2004, saw Mother Tongue Books hosting the event. Then in 2005, at the suggestion of Seymour Mayne, we organized Coast-to-Coast Birthday Readings to celebrate her 70th birthday. The readings took place in St. John’s, Newfoundland, organized by Michelle Butler Hallett; Ottawa, organized by Susan Robertson; Edmonton, organized by Alice Major; and a big one at The Vancouver Public Library, with many of Pat’s relatives attending. It is my intention that these readings build toward a major tribute to Pat in 2010, the year that she would have turned 75. The Feminist Caucus of The League of Canadian Poets is exploring the idea of sponsoring the reading in 2010.
These tributes serve to enhance the memory of a silenced Canadian poet who is like the character in her poem, “Woman On/Against Snow”
She says stubbornly nothing
but poems come from her hands: