Up on the Roof by P. K. Page
The nature of truth in art, and most particularly in fiction, is reconsidered in the guile of a conspiratorial domestic with attitude, fallen arches and an aversion to household appliances which complements perfectly her inability to consider orthotics or the ministrations of a podiatrist.
‘A flashlight, a frying pan, a library, a piece of marble -- you will encounter all these objects in the worlds P. K. Page invents for you in these pages. It’s hard to imagine so many authorial impersonations in one book: a middle-aged gardener retreats from domestic chaos to the privacy of his rooftop shelter; a young man discovers his parents’ library as solace for a broken heart; a child whose parents are pigeon breeders makes beautiful objects of feathers. All the stories have in common the impeccable verbal magic that is P. K. Page’s unique poetic signature. And beneath is a profound meditation. What is fiction, what is fact? Is there anything we can call truth? And who is the tremulous ‘we’, desperately trying to fix a location in this multiple, endlessly metamorphic, lonely cosmos. With an understanding earned by a lifetime of attention, Page assures us that this cosmos is threaded with love, if we are brave enough to search for it.’
2008—ReLit Awards, Short Fiction,
The nature of truth in art, and most particularly in fiction, is reconsidered in the (imagined) autobiography of an Australian girl from Waggawagga who assembles pinion feathers from pigeons to create dioramas mounted behind glass and framed by old newsprint; a waif from the outback for whom the very notion of the cobblestones on St Mark’s Square in Venice is both olfactory, and repugnant. Then Michelangelo himself takes a cameo turn after dark, a silhouette faintly circumscribed under the light of the Southern Cross.
One imagines the night sky above Alice Springs is very black.
It is not difficult to divine the source of these eleven short fictions. P. K. Page accompanied her husband Arthur Irwin to the Antipodes when he served as High Commissioner to Australia in the 1950s. Some of this same material appears in P. K. Page’s own autobiography in verse Hand Luggage (PQL 2006), but it isn’t so much where these stories come from that captures our interest and snares it in thrall, as it is where the fictions go to.
The challenges of the diplomatic service exercised in the Southern Hemisphere were well documented by P. K. Page in her Brazilian Journal (1987), but that work was non-fiction, published by the late and much-lamented house of Lester and Orpen, Dennys. Up on the Roof is fiction, which is not to say that it is any less true, or more so. Here a female writer discovers that Genghis Khan and Barbie share a predilection for intricately-woven brocade, only to be thwarted in her journalistic endeavour by the guile of a conspiratorial domestic with attitude, fallen arches and an aversion to household appliances which complements perfectly her inability to consider orthotics or the ministrations of a podiatrist.
‘Up on the Roof contains fiction pieces of a variety of lengths, some as short as a few pages, others full-length stories. By turns tart and contemplative, Page’s prose fiction is, like her poetry, fascinated with derivations of perspective, and her use of narrative voice gives her plenty of opportunity to explore a particular penchant for plotting characters undergoing transformation.’
—Tanis MacDonald, Malahat Review
‘In this latest volume, Page re-works and refines the central themes and motifs that run throughout her poetry, prose, and even her visual art.’
—Cynthia Messenger, Canadian Literature
Where do my stories come from? First, from a voice. In ‘Ex Libris’ I was given the voice of Ivor and from there on it was plain sailing. Is that true? Not completely, I suppose, because every time I had to stop -- to get a meal, to go out -- I couldn’t help wondering if the voice would be there when I began again. I was not Daedalus. There was no thread in my head to lead me on. Only the voice. The same is true of ‘Up on the Roof’. Once I had the voice, I had the story. Only that voice knew that story, so if I lost the voice I lost it all. The same can roughly be said of all the others. The reason I hedge a bit here is because sometimes another element is there too: a vestige of plot or colour. But only a vestige. Very thin ice that would not bear my weight.
I began writing stories in my twenties. They were usually bizarre: the man whose leg came through the ceiling, the child who fell from a steeple, etc. Then I stopped for some years. When I began again the stories were still bizarre. What has become clear to me is that the closer the stories come to autobiography, the more impossible they are to write. I write out of the imagination. Facts clip my wings. And without a voice, I have no voice. I am mute.
P. K. Page wrote some of the best poems published in Canada over the last seven decades. In addition to winning the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1957, she was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1999. She was the author of more than two dozen books, including ten volumes of poetry, a novel, short stories, eight books for children, and two memoirs based on her extended stays in Brazil and Mexico with her husband Arthur Irwin, who served in those countries as the Canadian Ambassador. In addition to writing, Page painted, under the name P. K. Irwin. She mounted one-woman shows in Mexico and Canada. Her work was also exhibited in various group shows, and is represented in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Victoria Art Gallery, among others.
A two-volume edition of Page’s collected poems, The Hidden Room (Porcupine’s Quill), was published in 1997, and the full range of her richly varied work is being made available in a digital resource, The Digital Page, supplemented by a series of texts in print and e-book format published by The Porcupine’s Quill.
P. K. Page was born in England and brought up on the Canadian prairies. She died on the 14th of January, 2010.