Patrick Friesen

Patrick Friesen, poet, playwright, filmmaker (born at Steinbach, Manitoba 5 July 1946). Born into a small MENNONITE community, Patrick Friesen broke away from this strict environment at an early age; this personal rebellion has informed his work throughout his life. His dominant themes are the relation between spirit and flesh, and how this relationship plays out in the passing of time and in his responses to people and their interactions within our shared worldly environment.

Friesen received his BA (Honours) in English from the UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA in 1969. He spent 12 years teaching at Kwantlen University, before becoming a sessional instructor of writing at the UNIVERSITY OF VICTORIA. He has retired from full-time teaching, and resides in Brentwood Bay, BC.

Patrick Friesen has proven himself to be a man of multiple talents in various media. His writing career was launched with the POETRY volumes the lands that i am (1976) and bluebottle (1978). He has gone on to publish The shunning (1980), Unearthly horses (1984), Flicker and hawk (1987), You don't get to be a saint (1992), and Blasphemer's wheel, a selection of old and new poems (1994), which that year was both winner of the Manitoba Book of the Year award, and runner up for the Milton Acorn People's Poetry award. In addition, Friesen has published a broken bowl (1997, shortlisted for a GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD), carrying the shadow (1999) and the breath you take from the Lord (2002), both of which were nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for their respective years. He has since issued bordello poems (2004), earth's crude gravities (2007), and jumping in the asylum (2012), which won a ReLit Award.

As if this output weren't formidable enough, Friesen is also active in spoken word and music recordings (Blue door in 1997, a segment of a broken bowl in 1996, Small rooms in 2003 and Calling the Dog Home in 2005, all performed with jazz pianist Marilyn Lerner), text and dance compositions, and filmmaking. His works in these areas include films such as Don Proch: the spirit of Assessippi (1985), Patrick Lane (1985), Rising to dance (1990) and Together as one: a dance collaboration (1991).

At the root of his creativity is what is perhaps his key work, The shunning. First published as a book-length poem, The shunning unifies and expresses all the themes of Friesen's vision in a narrative about a Mennonite man ostracized by his community for daring to question the religious tenets of his faith. As the passage of time brings forth the memories of the past that constitute the lead character's identity, the conflict of spirit and flesh is shown in the contrast between the concerns of his individual faith and the demands of his authoritarian Mennonite culture. The shunning was adapted as a one-hour radio performance for CBC Radio Manitoba in 1990, and performed live, choreographed and presented by the dance company Motus O at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto in 1995. It was revived in 2011 by the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

In his earlier poems, Friesen uses short, terse lines that in their order and precision of expression exhibit great resonance. Later poems are written in longer prosodic lines which suggest a more conversational tone. This may be the influence of his work in alternative media, a loosening of his language to give him greater expressiveness in writing of spiritual and fleshly matters, both their dissonances and their moments of grace, when the two states of being find a unity. Friesen remains a writer who, most deeply and most fully, presents us these unique creative moments as living experience.