by Jo Barnes | photos by Amanda Cribdon Photography –
She plays piano and guitar, but it is the music of her words which strikes the most powerful chord with people.
North Saanich’s Pamela Porter, a Governor General Award winning writer, was captivated by the power of writing from a young age and now her free verse style and narratives captivate audiences.
“Free verse, it’s a music of words. It’s a compressed language that’s crystal clear,” shares Pamela. “A word or phrase will open a door or window, a memory or image that feels important, and you have to write it down.”
Her book The Crazy Man won the 2005 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature as well as other awards and continues to receive praise from readers. It’s a shining example of Pamela’s talents. The story is told in free verse so it’s concise and easy to access. Character emotions are heightened, and the reader is quickly transported to the events as they unfold.
“The book has short lines that are compressed and compact on pages. It’s more accessible,” comments Pamela.
It has been a long road to this level of writing, but the seeds were sown in childhood. An avid reader as a child, Pamela was deeply impacted by books and those who wrote them.
“In elementary school, when I had finished my work, I cracked open a book,” she says. “I was so immersed in the book I hadn’t heard anything around me. It was magic, and I thought to myself, ‘how do you do that?'”
Pamela was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her family later moved to Dallas, Texas and then Monroe, Louisiana. She studied piano, often competing and performing and was involved in choir. Like her sister, she enrolled at Texas Christian University (TCU), a school well known for its good music programs. One month in, however, she discovered what path to pursue.
“I realized what I wanted to do was to write poetry,” says Pamela, adding with a smile: “Everyone told me though I should get a real job.”
After a year and a half at TCU, she transferred to Southern Methodist University in Dallas where she completed a Bachelor in English in Creative Writing.
Pamela was always inspired by other writers. There was only one book of poetry in the home where she grew up, a complete collection of Robert Frost poetry which Pamela spent hours reading. Later, she read works by poet and singer-songwriter Rod McKuen and Pulitzer prize winner Carl Sandburg. Each turn of phrase, image and word prompted ideas that would eventually influence Pamela’s writing style.
The path to publication was long and winding, but for this writer, it was marked by determination and desire.
“I would send manuscripts to different publishers. I got discouraged,” shares Pamela. “Writing always pulled at me and brought me the most joy.”
The submission of a manuscript to Groundwood Books in 2004 marked a turning point in her writing career. It brought some hope and the eventual publication experience for which she yearned.
“They called me and said ‘the story is good but needs work.’ They sent me a list of what I needed to work on and a month later I sent it back with changes,” shares Pamela. “They liked the changes and told me they wanted to publish it. Well I burst into tears. It had been 29 years that I’d been trying to get published!”
The book was Sky, which was based on Pamela’s Métis friend Georgia Salois and her stories of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana including the flood of 1964. It was the kind of breakthrough that paved the way not only to other published pieces but many awards. When her book The Crazy Man was given the Governor General Award, it was both surprising and affirming.
“I always thought there were people who win and people who didn’t win. I thought I was the latter,” says Pamela.
She has added more published works and awards to her credit, but that inner desire to write and make sense of the world still burns like a flame. Like many artists, during this pandemic time of stress and uncertainty, creativity is a lifeline for Pamela. Living in the North Saanich area not only provides natural beauty but the opportunity to enjoy her love of horses, all of which has provided inspiration for her work. “I enjoy creating poetry about the natural world around here and the beauty of this place, the things the world needs to know about and how we can find a better way together,” shares Pamela.
She learned the magic of notes on the page. Early on, they were notes on a musical score. Now they are words, her words, which will elegantly resonate for years to come.