Victoria’s Arleen Paré has won a Governor General’s Literary Award for her poetry book Lake of Two Mountains.
The award comes with a $25,000 prize. Paré said she’ll use it to buy a heat pump for her cottage on Mayne Island.
The 68-year-old poet, a former social worker, said 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. I felt weightless.”
Lake of Two Mountains is described as a “praise poem” in 45 parts that contemplates landscape and memory. Paré says it’s based on childhood memories of spending summers at her family’s century-old cottage at Lake of Two Mountains (Lac des Deux Montagnes), located between the Ottawa River and the St. Lawrence River system.
“Mostly I spent my days in the water,” said Paré, who recalls this period in the 1950s as an “idyllic” time in her life.
Award judges described Lake of Two Mountains as “a poem of sustained beauty, an almost monastic meditation on the overlapping centre of human and natural reality.” The book touches on human and natural history, including the 1990 Oka Crisis, Pleistocene shifts and dislocations and Ile Cadieux, a Trappist monastery on the lake’s northern show.
Lake of Two Mountains is Paré’s third book. Her first, Paper Trail (2007), won the Victoria Butler Book Prize and was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay B.C. Book Award for Poetry. Her second book, Leaving Now, was published in 2012.
Paré wrote Lake of Two Mountains in 2012 as a major project to complete her master’s degree in writing from the University of Victoria. Originally from Montreal, she moved to Victoria from Vancouver in 2003 following a career as a social worker and administrator, mostly finding accommodation for the homeless.
She first started writing seriously at the age of 48. Paré describes herself as a late bloomer.
“This is a late kind of... well, I was going to say Grandma Moses career,” she said with a laugh.
Four Victorians were nominated for this year’s Governor General’s Literary Awards. Garth Martens was also nominated in the poetry category. The other nominees were Bill Gaston (fiction) and Janet Munsil (drama).