P.K. (Patricia Kathleen) Page is regarded as one of Canada’s most beloved creative voices. Both a poet and artist, Page crafted beautiful images through her words and art in her home office in Victoria, British Columbia. When Page passed away in 2010, her literary executor Zailig Pollock documented the contents of her office to preserve a sense of the physical creative space that inspired her while she wrote and worked on her art pieces.
This idea of capturing a glimpse of the way writers work is becoming a vital practice for cultural heritage institutions like Library and Archives Canada (LAC). At Emory University Libraries in the U.S., visitors can access author Salman Rushdie’s papers and nose around his computer. Emory transferred the author’s donated digital files to a computer that replicates the operating system he used to write his earlier works. You can trace Rushdie’s creative process by accessing documents and emails he wrote and programs he used. When the British Library acquired poet Wendy Cope’s archives, the institution preserved the physical environment that affected the writer’s creative work through one panoramic photo of her office.
The same effort was made in preserving P.K. Page’s creative space through photographs. Researchers took photos of her office, and her books and possessions were carefully catalogued, shelf by shelf, so that we can know what kinds of books she referred to and what she looked at when she paused to consider her next line of verse. Symbols from Sufism—the mystical branch of Islam that Page began studying in the 1960s—surrounded her on the walls and cushions in her office.
Some of the most intimate details captured in documenting P.K. Page’s creative space were the items found on her desk. Mementos she would have glanced at numerous times each day rested in front of her computer screen. These items included a note with the question “What’s next?” and a handwritten prayer in Portuguese. This prayer must have meant something special to the poet to have occupied such a place on her desk. We know that she acquired it in the 1950s while living in Brazil with her husband, W. Arthur Irwin, during his time as Canadian Ambassador to that country.
By preserving Page’s creative space, we get a peek at how she created art with words, and researchers now have clues they can use to better understand the work and life of one of Canada’s most prolific and inspired poets. Her archival fonds, which contains manuscripts, personal papers, photographs, and some sound recordings, is held at LAC. For more information on how to access an archival record at LAC, we invite you to read our blog series “Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records at Library and Archives Canada“.
Photographs by Emily Ballantyne.