Part 4: Pat Lowther 1935-1975
My pick for today’s discussion:
to be broken
split apart with a mighty tearing
like an apple broken
the delicate open veined petal pattern
inside the fruit
I am arrogant
what I can do
for a man
I am arrogant
I may be broken
and he not see
the flower shape of me
– Pat Lowther
(below are excerpts from a paper I wrote in 2014 on Pat Lowther, Art as Life: Writing and Motherhood)
She is Mother Earth. She digs “with very gentle fingers.” She births “Two babies in Two Years.” She is “a red/thing beating/at the centre/of emptiness.”
Her work embodies these preoccupations in a way that continues to strike at the very heart of Canadian society, even nearly forty years after her death. Her domestic poetry is deeply political, and her political poetry deeply domestic. But, at the very crux of it all lies a creative tension that holds, on one end, the perfect poet, and on other, the perfect mother. In Lowther’s poem “Wanting,” the speaker symbolizes the inner turmoil of a mother who yearns to fulfill her roles as both poet and mother. However, her inability to separate one role from the other comes from a profound fear of losing both.
With these roles come expectations and those expectations often exist in tenuous opposition. A poet must see the world in all its beauty and terror, but a mother must protect her young from the world. She is expected to be an ever present and always loving mother. When she is not, she is shamed. How then, can a mother also be a poet?
Despite the struggles poet-mothers face, their capacity to brave the storm comes with bittersweet rewards. In seizing that creative moment, the artist is released long enough to leave behind her gift of words—her creation—but not without the torturous fallout, the tallying up of victims, least of all her, along the path of destruction. Ironically, Pat Lowther ended broken, but her essence remains forever treasured and remembered.
Learning about Pat Lowther and her work was a profound experience for me. I have been a closet poet for most of my life, and after I had children it became even more crucial for me to hide my work. It was difficult to explain why that was, until I began researching for this paper. I realized that poet-mothers struggled in ways that were very familiar to me.
It was because of Pat Lowther that I was able to begin sharing my domestic poetry in Lynn Crosbie’s class. I thought that my work would be lost on the young students I read to, but quite the opposite happened. One student even commented that my work changed her opinion of her own mother because she learned to see her from a different perspective–that’s the power of poetry!
I wrote this poem in memory of Pat Lowther. I never needed my own mother more than after I had my first child. I ached to think of Pat Lowther’s grown daughters having their first child without their own mother with them. Her death is a haunting reminder of the despair domestic violence leaves behind.
The mirror but a window
as if she too is a ghost.
She yanks at her belly skin
trying to remember if her mother’s did the same.
Mother’s words tell her about her own birth
too sudden, violent
Yet, here she stands without her
too sudden, violent.
Not wanting to be broken, like her mother wanted.
She is split— not for wanting.
Half him in darkness, half her in brightness
wanting only her half,
but she knows the mirror can only be a mirror.
Roberta C Natale