Still Something To Find

Something Still To Find by Douglas LePan (McClelland and Stewart 1982)

These poems mark a turning point, an invisible border between LePan’s old life and his new one.  Between family life, politics and teaching—all bounded by an award-winning literary career—and coming out, which he did late in life.  His metaphor, exploring the Canadian wilderness, is an apt one in the context of exploring his sexuality.  Poems like The Double and Hideout make far more sense when seen in that context, and even more so when you see such delicately sensual pieces like Song and Aubade transplanted in his next volume, the exquisite and far less oblique Far Voyages, his first full volume of gay love poems.

LePan was a remarkable yet extremely humble individual.  He served as an artilleryman in World War II, though his diplomatic connections would have allowed him to avoid fighting.  He took part in the campaign to liberate Italy (about which Michael Ondaatje interviewed him while writing The English Patient) and loved to travel there late in life.  He knew TS Eliot as ‘Tom’ and was acquainted with Cecil Day-Lewis, poet laureate of England (and father of Daniel Day-Lewis.)  He also worked as a diplomat and was Lester B Pearson’s aide (and claimed Pearson was gay, along with other notables like Robertson Davies.  In those days of course, gay or not, you married if you wanted to get ahead.)

Doug had a terrific sense of humour and loved to shock by throwing a well-timed curse into a conversation that had got a bit too serious.  For the most part, he was a happy man in the years I knew him (from 1991 till his death in 1998.)  Of regrets he seemed to be remarkably free, though after reading my first novel he told me he wished he’d had the courage to write his Governor Generals’ Award-winning novel, The Deserter, as a gay story, which he claimed it was.

The only time I knew him to get upset was at his inability to place his last major work, Macalister or Dying in the Dark, an epic poem about the torture and death of Canadian soldier John Kenneth Macalister at the hands of the Nazis.  LePan believed (and I agreed) that it was his greatest work and he was justifiably upset when the book was rejected by his long-time publisher, McClelland and Stewart.  (This was possibly a reaction to the lack of interest in his gay poems, which he’d been advised against publishing by several senior members of Canada’s literary establishment, including New Canadian Library Series editor Malcolm Ross.)

LePan actually felt that Ross and several other friends of long standing turned their backs on him after the book came out, though Ross later endorsed Macalister when it was eventually published by Quarry Press.  If they’d been watching closely, however, they would have realized he’d already come out in this slim volume of poems.


 

 
 

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