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Authors / Safarik Recalls Pat Lowther

April 02nd, 2008

On October 15, 975, Pat Lowther’s body was discovered five kilometres south of Britannia Beach at Furry Creek, badly decomposed. Police concluded several months later that Lowther was bludgeoned to death with a hammer wielded by her jealous husband; a would-be poet. Former West Coast publisher and poet Allan Safarik has recalled his friendship with poet Pat Lowther and his difficulties coming to terms with her murder in “Watermarks,” the final chapter of his Notes from the Outside: Episodes from an Unconventional Life (Hagios, 2006).

As a student at Simon Fraser University, Allan Safarik first met Lowther in 1970 and later published several of her poems in his Blackfish magazine, as well as an obscure collection of poetry, The Age of the Bird. As Pat Lowther’s reputation as a poet began to eclipse her husband’s reputation as a would-be author, Safarik sometimes visited the Lowthers’ hostile home environment. Separated by about ten years, Pat and Roy Lowther were sleeping at, and occupied, opposite ends of the house, remaining under the same roof for their children, while constrained financially.

“Pat stood up and dropped a section of the newspaper on top of my working area and held her finger to her lips to warn me to stop what I was doing,” writes Safarik. “It soon became obvious that we weren’t alone. “Roy, quiet as their cat, Tinker, had snuck up the stairs and manoeuvred himself into a position behind a tall book shelf so he could listen and observe us before we could detect his presence. When finally he came out from his hiding spot he gave me the creeps. Soon he went back down into the basement again and Pat heaved a sigh of relief.”

Safarik refers to Roy Lowther as demented, abusive, diabolical and a madman. “He wrote doggerel,” Safarik claims, “and was completely convinced that he was a misunderstood genius. It burned his ass to think that people saw more in Pat’s work than they saw in his feeble output.” Safarik is convinced that the final straw that led to Lowther’s murder was her invitation to a poetry reading at the Ironworkers Hall on Columbia Street, along with headliners Patrick Lane, David Day and Peter Trower. Already perturbed by his wife’s dabbling in an extra-marital relationship with a poet in eastern Canada, Roy Lowther was furious not to be allowed onto the stage to read. Four days before the event, Pat Lowther was dead by the hands of her hammer-wielding husband, who had been diagnosed prior to their marriage as paranoid schizophrenic. According to BC BookWorld reviewer Joan Givner, “The acquisition of a briefcase became in his eyes the hated symbol of her growing professionalism. He confessed that after he disposed of the body, he flung the briefcase as far as he could into the bushes. It is a sad irony that the brief-case seems to have been the one private repository of her working papers for a writer who had no office, room or desk of her own.”

After family members prompted authorities to investigate more closely, police discovered 117 bloodspots on the walls of the couple’s bedroom. Roy Lowther had taken the couple’s mattress to Mayne Island, having washed on both sides, but reddish stains remained. Following the murder trial in 1977, Safarik became a common target of inquiry for journalists and media people and made numerous appearances at literary events to honour Lowther, who became venerated as a tragic, Sylvia Plath figure for Canada. “I was burnt out on the subject and tweaking my memory gave me nightmares,” he says. Rumours and misinformation appalled him, and Safarik resented the way Lowther had been turned into a “celebrity victim” by a sensational trial, so he decided to no longer speak publicly about the Lowthers.

Roy Lowther died in prison in 1985. After many years of silence, and his move to Dundurn, Saskatchewan, Allan Safarik was contacted by Anne Henderson, a documentary film-maker who was working on a project about Pat Lowther’s daughters Beth and Chris. After Safarik reluctantly agreed to participate, his teary-eyed reunion with the daughters was captured on film. “My encounter with Beth and Chris in Jericho Beach Park thanks to Anne Henderson set me free from my feelings of denial. I broke down in tears but I was able to talk freely with Beth and Chris on camera and give them copies of their mother’s publications that they had never seen.”

Relieved to be presented as the main authority on Lowther in “Watermarks,” Safarik has broken his silence to start anew. “In a sense we never had a chance to miss her properly,” he writes, “because we were always talking about her.”

[Notes from the Outside: Episodes from an Unconventional Life also includes Safarik’s recollections of Dorothy Livesay, Milton Acorn, Anne Szumigalski, Joe Rosenblatt, Patrick Friesen and William Hoffer, along with other personal essays about growing up in Vancouver and starting Blackfish Press. 0973972742] — A.T.

Essay Date: 2007

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