Department of Writing alumna Arleen Paré has been announced as the winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry for her newest book, Lake of Two Mountains (Brick Books). On top of national recognition and a trip to Ottawa’s Rideau Hall to receive the award on November 26 from His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, Paré also receives a cash prize of $25,000.
“We are all thrilled with this national recognition for Arleen’s unique poetic vision and her commitment to the craft of writing,” says Writing chair David Leach. “The fact that the Writing department had four nominees this year for Governor General’s Awards—three alumni and a faculty member—emphasizes how UVic is an incubator of literary excellence in Canada.”
The other Faculty of Fine Arts representatives nominated include Department of Writing professor Bill Gaston, Writing alumni Garth Martens (BFA and MFA) and Arno Kopecky (Harvey Southam diploma grad), plus Department of Theatre aluma and playwright Janet Munsil—each of whom will receive $1,000. In all, Fine Arts had five out of 18 nominees in the Fiction/Poetry/Non-fiction/Drama categories of this year’s awards.
“Having so many areas of the Faculty of Fine Arts—poetry, with Arleen’s win; poetry again with Garth’s nomination; fiction with Bill Gaston’s and drama with Janet Munsil’s— illustrates the strength and vibrancy of fine arts at the University of Victoria in particular and in British Columbia generally,” says Dr. Lynne Van Luven, Acting Dean of Fine Arts. “Such achievements are all the more impressive given budget cuts for fine arts programs overall. Wonderful news all around!”
The jury praised Lake of Two Mountains as being “a poem of sustained beauty, an almost monastic meditation on the overlapping centres of human and natural reality. Whether she is describing the Oka Crisis, bullfrogs, sunbeams or religion, ‘anything that passes through [this shape-shifting landscape] is transformed,’ including the reader.”
Paré’s first book, Paper Trail, won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and was shortlisted for BC Books Dorothy Livesay Prize in Poetry. She has also written the novel, Leaving Now (Caitlin Press, 2012). Her fourth book, a collection of poetry titled Face in the Funeral Car,, is forthcoming from Caitlin Press in fall 2015. Her writing has also appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies in Canada.
Department of Writing poetry professor—and fellow Governor General’s Literary Award winner—Tim Lilburn fondly recalls Paré’s time as both an undergrad and graduate student, working on early drafts of what would become her now award-winning poetry collection. “I remember working on some of those poems with her in workshop, and I think that’s where the idea for this book started,” says Lilburn. “Lake of Two Mountains is essentially her thesis that she’s added onto.”
Lilburn is also quick to point out the success of the Department of Writing’s MFA program. “We’ve had uncanny success in terms of the Governor General’s Awards since we started the MFA program in 2008,” he says. “We’ve had four GG nominations—Melanie Siebert, Kevin Paul, Garth Martens and Arleen Paré—and now one winner. All have been poets, and all four of them were undergrads, too.”
Lake of Two Mountains is a praise poem in 45 parts that contemplates landscape and memory, officially described as “a portrait of a lake, of a relationship to a lake, of a network of relationships around a lake. It maps, probes and applauds the riparian region of central Canadian geography that lies between the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence Rivers. The poems portray this territory, its contested human presences and natural history: the 1990 Oka Crisis, Pleistocene shifts and dislocations, the feather-shaped Ile Cadieux, a Trappist monastery on the lake’s northern shore. As we are drawn into experience of the lake and its environs, we also enter an intricate interleaving of landscape and memory, a reflection on how a place comes to inhabit us even as we inhabit it.”
Retired Writing professor Patrick Lane lauded Paré’s poems as being “monastic prayers of forgiveness, intense simplicities that praise all we have lost, all we have left. She is a gift the world has given us. Read her and then in deep quiet read her again.”
Originally from Montreal, the 68-year-old Paré lived for many years in Vancouver, where she worked as a social worker. She is currently the director of Victoria’s Cool Aid Society, which works to end homelessness in the Capital Region.
She told the local Times Colonist newspaper in this interview that she was “amazed” to learn of her win. “It was actually shocking in that way you find yourself at the end of a parachute or something,” she said. “I felt weightless.” When asked what she’ll do with the prize money, Paré said she’ll use it to buy a heat pump for her cottage on Mayne Island.