With page after page, binder upon binder, Lewisporte poet Philip Patey keeps an ever-growing body of work.
As the 79-year-old opens a binder to a poem he completed this past February, he notes the page number is marked 10,708. This vast collection of beginning ideas, drafts in progress and finished poems reflect his many decades crafting words.
“At any one time there are 600 pieces in progress,” Patey said. “There’s over 400 I’ve started in the last two years. I have some poems here that have been on go since 2013.”
An evolving art
It was in his first year of university that Patey decided to devote his leisurely hours to writing. Since then he has developed a unique process and protocol to creating his poems.
Equipped with a notepad, often the poems start with Patey’s day-to-day observations, from something as simple as a glance out the windowsill. With this mindset to always be ready when an idea strikes, Patey holds a large bank of ideas and subject matter, ranging from sunbeams, birds and gardening to potholes, friendship, the fishery, growing old, and the list goes on.
“My ideas come to me in a variety of ways; they come to me and I write them down,” he said. “I have 27 ideas written for February, almost one for each day.
“They go in a binder with all the other ideas I’ve collected and they sit there for more than a year. When I start working on them, I spend at least two years on each idea. Sometimes the ideas don’t get very far, sometimes they become completed pieces of work.”
With this two-year minimum to each prospective poem, Patey will return to ideas he wrote about years past and begin the first line. Over time, he returns again and again until he feels assured the piece is complete. It is this extensive and long-term process that has Patey working on hundreds of poems simultaneously.
Last February, Patey returned to an idea he had written down 12 years before, writing the initial lines for a poem about loons. He says it will be at least until February, 2020, before that poem is complete.
Even in deep rest, Patey keeps a pen and paper near his bedside in case a dream strikes him with a great idea.
“I wake in the night and write when a sudden idea or a vivid dream comes to me,” he said. “In the dark you know how to shape the letters without looking at them. I’ve had fantastic ideas come from a dream.”
At 12 handwritten pages, the longest poem in Patey’s collection is one about resettlement. The opening description of a breed of men who once lived where the North Atlantic stretched towards the land, paints a topic Patey is familiar with. His parents were clergy with the Salvation Army and growing up he was often moved from town to town.
“Because we were moved around the province I was resettled every three or four years,” he said. “The longest time I’ve lived in a place is Lewisporte and I’ve been here 40 years. I never thought it would ever happen.”
Reflecting on the poem, Patey recalled the powerful statement of an older fisherman who had resettled from his home. The man told Patey that he fished and knew the grounds back home all his life, and now he won’t have time to learn these new grounds.
Magic of poetry
Although to some it may seem like a library-size collection of finished and unfinished poetry, Patey has never had his work published in book form. Some of his writing has appeared in magazines and newspapers, but the majority of his completed poems have only been recited publicly.
Patey has given readings at many public libraries and reading groups in central Newfoundland. He says he enjoys this method of showcasing his work, as it reflects that personal interpretation at the heart of experiencing poetry.
“That’s the magic of poetry – I have an idea that I’m going to write about, but when I recite the poem or somebody reads it, the poem is not my poem anymore. It becomes their poem,” Patey said. “They interpret my lines from their life experience and they make the poems their own.”
A poem from Philip Patey
The child in the landwash
is fair-haired and free
As fair as the sunshine
from over the sea
when grey sandy beaches
bask in the warm sun
and shore birds follow
each wave’s breaking run,
As free as the sea breeze
that wanders ashore
to lift up white sea gulls
which hover and soar
while lazy dune grasses
absent- mindedly make
to show the winds wake.
The child in the landwash
is wholesome and new
As fresh as the sunrise
when held by the dew
that’s born in the twilight
before the new day
has waken from sleep
the sun’s warming ray,
As new as this moment
which time brings to bloom
unfolding in splendor
wherever there’s room,
a new combination
of recycling time
held for a moment
in something sublime.