How do you spell sobreity

I was pleased to see Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier at the Millennium Library yesterday, and they were pleased to see me. Patrick spoke about sobriety as part of the Thin Air Big Ideas Series, Lynn, me, and an attentive crowd listened.

I got to know Patrick and Lorna just after they had just partnered up in fall of 1978. They published a book together called No Longer Two People, and I published Jimmy Bang Poems in 1979.   Before moving to Victoria, Patrick and Lorna had a bit of a nomadic existence trying to get by on their writing and their wits as Pat describes it. They did spend a fair amount of time in Saskatchewan in the 1980s where we reconnected when I was Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.

Patrick drank, I drank, and occasionally we would have drinks together. He was at the table in the South Pembina Highway Norlander Hotel bar in Winnipeg when we were surprised by strippers. Him, me, and real university professors (buying us drinks) feeling guilty about their paycheques. It is the only time I’ve ever seen Patrick blush. The only time I played poker was in Regina with Jerry Rush (dead of smoking cancer) John Newlove (dead, complications of alcoholism) and Parick. Paul Wilson may have been there too, but I don’t remember.  I lost $20 that night, but figured I was ahead when I calculated how much of the host’s scotch I drank. 

Patrick is now 13 years sober, pretty amazing for anyone who knew him in the 20th century, speaking eloquently about the clarity of sobriety and the beauty of his garden. As he noted a lot of his literary friends and colleagues, often alcoholics and occasionally addicts, are dead.  It’s clear Patrick is a survivor, and always was, but now he can be a lot more. He was pleased with the Collected Poems, but regretted the five novels he had not been able to write due to his alcoholism, and how clearly the absence of drink make Red Dog, Red Dog possible. I agree with Patrick, that, despite Hemingway’s advice to “Write drunk – and edit sober,” writing fiction requires a clear head, and a substantial commitment, greater than planning your next drink. Poetry does not depend on “disordered senses,”  but tolerates them – cue Patrick Lane’s “Collected.”

Patrick goes to 5 AA meetings a week. Patrick has lost none of his charm, his articulation and delivery (good even under the influence) or his ability to enchant an audience; a raconteur of the first rank, probably a popular guy at a meeting. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to the poetry bash because I’m in pain, and it’s my writing night. I’m sorry I missed Cordelia Strube, Sean Virgo, and Carry Snyder, and tonight the poetry. I think I will write Patrick a letter.


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