With a sold-out house, gales of laughter, heartfelt reminiscences, touching readings and a few sincerely dewy-eyed moments, the Literary Celebration of Lorna Crozier proved to be a smash success! And, thanks to the nearly 300 people filling the David Lam Auditorium on November 28, the Department of Writing also managed to raise a nice bit of money for the fledgling Lorna Crozier Undergraduate Poetry Scholarship.
Hilariously hosted by Shelagh Rogers of CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter, and featuring a stellar lineup of poets—including Jane Urquhart, Brad Cran, Patrick Lane, Carla Funk, Melanie Siebert and Steven Price—the nearly two-and-a-half-hour event kept people alternately in stitches and silence, depending on the emotional tone of the readings . . . and anecdotes. (Alas, planned guests Anne Michaels had to cancel due to illness and Esi Edugyan was called out of town on book business.) Most of the poets read a mix of their favourite Crozier poems as well as some of their own work, much of which was either inspired by or had been critiqued by her as a teacher.
Celebrated author and poet Jane Urquhart set the tone for the evening, mixing personal—and often surprisingly frank—reminiscences of Lorna with her own readings. (Highlights included hearing about the two of them attending a literary event in Paris, which did Lorna’s fashion addiction absolutely no good.) Shelagh Rogers responded in kind with a side-splitting story about Urquhart, Crozier and herself breaking into an artistic director’s home after a reading on the Sunshine Coast to drink gin and tonics. An audience member paid $50 to hear this hilarious and totally impromptu bon mot, and it actually kicked off a cash-for-kooky-Crozier-stories frenzy that ran the entire night and saw about $500 extra raised for the scholarship. (Indeed, Crozier’s husband, Patrick Lane, offered to tell a particularly racy story about her for $100, which Crozier then outbid with another $100 for him not to tell it!)
The most memorable readings of the night came from Crozier’s former students—Cran, Price, Siebert and Funk—all of whom attested to her skill in the classroom and importance as a mentor; most of them have since become friends and colleagues, and their memories provided vivid illustrations of how important a professor can be in the lives of emerging artists. A highly emotional Brad Cran even got too choked up to
finish his own reading, barely holding back the tears as he recounted his own experience with undiagnosed dyslexia, the difference Crozier made to him as a student, and the struggles his daughter is currently going through with the same thing—and the hope that she too would find such a supportive mentor one day.
Another highlight of the evening was the special performance by School of Music professor Alexandra Pohran Dawkins, who played her own charming and poetic improvisational piece on the English Horn titled, “A Musical Offering—For Lorna.”
Patrick Lane read out a message from Anne Michaels, noting that she was “very sad not to be with you all—only a doctor’s orders would keep me away.” Michaels wrote that she had known Crozier for over 30 years and had spent the past few weeks reading all of her books again, noting “how much love your poems contain, how much humour and quiet strength . . . in their grace, your poems embrace all of life.”
Lane himself had much to say about his wife—much of it hilarious, much of it touching—before reading one of his poems that was written at a moment of indecision in their relationship. “A Red Bird Bearing On His Back An Empty Cup” silenced the house, and caused many to pause and reflect on their own emotional lives. Lane also mischievously noted the pros and cons of living with another poet: “Every now and then I come up with these phrases and Lorna says, ‘Write that down’ . . . and I do, before she steals it.”
Former City of Victoria Poet Laureate Carla Funk spoke glowingly about Lorna’s teaching legacy, describing her “faith beyond faith” that a student’s poem would improve, and her ability to “encourage young poets, inspire them to continue, to strive, to grow, to give permission to write about things that were kept in shadows in your family’s history.”
By the time recently retired Crozier took the podium to a standing ovation, there was hardly a dry eye in the house. “I didn’t realize so much of the evening would be about me,” said an obviously moved Crozier, noting that “it shouldn’t be so much about me, but about raising money for our future students and aspiring poets.” Crozier also praised her former students, saying how lucky she was to have them in her classes. “Now they are peers, and I use their books as models for what one can write when you get so close to the heart.”
Indeed, many of the featured poets mentioned how they had been recipients of scholarships when they were in school, and how much a difference they can make in the life of a struggling student. All in all, the evening raised about $6,000 towards the $25,000 needed to make the scholarship self-sustaining. This scholarship will continue to honour the academic life and legacy of the beloved poet now that she has retired from teaching. Please consider a donation to this important fund, which will be awarded annually to a third or fourth year undergraduate poetry student. You can give online simply by clicking this link.
As Dr. Sarah Blackstone, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, noted at the close of the evening, “UVic has just celebrated our 50th anniversary—imagine, on our 100th anniversary, hearing the difference this scholarship has made to the lives and careers of 50 poets yet to come.”
Thanks go out to event sponsors Tanner’s Books, Marmalade Tart Boutique, Greystone Books, Harbour Publishing, plus UVic’s offices of the Vice President Aademic & Provost and External Relations, as well as our own Faculty of Fine Arts and Department of Writing.
If you missed it in advance, be sure to check out some of the media coverage the event received: CBC Radio’s All Points West on-air column “Creative Class” which you can hear by clicking here, this short article in the Times Colonist and this piece in The Ring, UVic’s community newspaper.