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Book Reviews

Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page

by Sandra Djwa

The long and fruitful life of P.K. Page, one of Canada’s most respected poets and artists, is expertly revealed in Sandra Djwa’s detailed biography.

Born in 1916, when women’s options were even more circumscribed than they are today, Page struggled with her artistic aspirations. Djwa illustrates the influence of three men – Page’s father, Lionel; her first love, Frank Scott; and her husband, Arthur Irwin – as well as Page’s Aunt Bibbi, who completed the work for a degree at Cambridge but was not awarded it because she was a woman. Page herself was an autodidact who never passed up an opportunity to delve into any subject that grabbed her imagination.

Djwa’s book is the result of many years’ work, begun when Page was still alive and (mostly) cooperating with her biographer. The resulting volume attempts to balance a chronological account of events with a recognition that, in Page’s world view (which owed much to Sufism), time is elastic.

Journey with No Maps provides a wonderful backdrop of Canadian writers and artists, especially the flourishing of homegrown talent beginning in the 1960s. As she aged, Page became ever more productive, and the poet’s books and friendship provided inspiration to any number of up-and-coming writers, including Margaret Atwood and Rosemary Sullivan.

Djwa’s association with Page, as well as her previous biography of F.R. Scott, has provided her with a wealth of material to draw on. The countless interviews attested to in the notes and bibliography indicate the extent of the personal contact Djwa had with her subject. As befits a careful academic, Djwa also examined piles of books, journals, papers, and letters to draw a fully realized portrait of Page. All that work has resulted in a highly readable biography about a fascinating woman.