Porter lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico until halfway through kindergarten. Her father, who worked for an insurance company, was transferred, and then the family moved to Dallas, Texas. When Porter was 12 years old her father was transferred to Monroe, Louisiana, where she attended Robert E. Lee Junior High. She remembers her school as being very strict, she had to address all her elders as "Yes, Ma'am, No, Ma'am, Yes, Sir, No, Sir." She was first introduced to racism at her school when everyone treated the African American staff with no respect by calling them by their first names and playing around with them. She recalls becoming very interested in world politics and the civil rights movement by watching the evening news every day.
Porter was first introduced to poetry while flipping through the back of her English language arts book in class. She picked up books from the library, books of poetry and pieces that usually were short, the length she felt she could read. She was also introduced to poems by Robert Frost, particularly "Desert Places". She believed she was always destined to be an author, and remembers always wanting to play the game "Authors" instead of "Scrabble" as a child.
Porter finished her undergraduate degree at Southern Methodist University. She now holds an MFA in poetry writing from the University of Montana. When she first entered university, she was very interested in languages. She studied the German language for a few years and was interested in becoming fluent in some other languages and becoming a translator.
Porter also is an accomplished musician, noted particularly for her abilities in piano, guitar, and singing, and was encouraged by university faculty to major in music.
Porter was 19 years old when she took her first writing course with John Skoyles. Other teachers were Jack Myers, Richard Hugo, and later Lorna Crozier, and Patrick Lane. Soon after earning her MFA she was awarded a scholarship to attend the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference in Vermont.
Porter met her husband in a bell choir. She and Rob traveled a lot together before having children; they lived in New Mexico at the National Solar Observatory near Cloudcroft, and then moved to Seattle before moving to Ulm, Montana to be closer to Rob's family, who were in Calgary. The family now resides near Sidney, British Columbia.
Porter has been a professor at the University of Victoria as a sessional instructor.
For generations, her family has gone to Saskatchewan every summer to work on the farm.
Pamela Porter has said that her first influence was the Bible. She was raised in a family of stalwart Presbyterians who were strict followers of their religion. She learned to read at the age of five as her father held his finger beneath the words in a hymn book. She has early memories of hearing the King James Bible read aloud; this gave her an introduction to literature and diverse vocabulary at a young age.
Porter's second influence was Robert Frost. She has said that The Complete Poems of Robert Frost was the only book of literature in her house; her mother received it as a gift. No one had opened it until Porter pulled the book down from a high shelf and began to read it.
Other influences on Porter include Li-Young Lee, Carolyn Forche Lorna Crozier, and Patrick Lane. She leans towards "poets who make effortless music with language while still holding their humanity close."
Porter's work has had a great impact on juvenile audiences. Young readers voted The Crazy Man across Canada as their favorite book of the year. Her books are distinguishable from other children books as their themes deal with real life issues and are often based on serious subjects, and are written in verse rather than conventional prose. They involve difficult and challenging experiences that children have encountered or will encounter in their lives, and are stories that many children can relate to. A prime example is The Crazy Man, which deals with the abandonment of one parent or another or sometimes both, thus telling the story of how people heal from tragedy and what they do to arrive at the point of healing, and even of gratitude.
However, as Porter is first and foremost a poet, her adult poetry is gaining a wider and more expansive readership.
She has also been deeply involved with rescuing animals, including dogs, cats, horses, and a rabbit, and taking them in as her own. Porter claims her love for animals was always in her, but she began to adopt animals while living on a ranch in Montana and Saskatchewan.
Porter is the author of four published collections of poetry. Sky (Toronto: Groundwood Books, 2004)
The Crazy Man (Groundwood, 2005)
Stones Call Out (Regina, SK: Coteau Books, 2006), poems
Yellow Moon, Apple Moon (Groundwood, 2008)
The Intelligence of Animals (Omaha, NE: The Backwaters Press, 2008), poems
노란 달, 사과 달 (Seoul: Glbburi, 2008)
Cathedral (Vancouver: Ronsdale Press, 2010), poems
I'll Be Watching (Groundwood, 2011)
No Ordinary Place (Ronsdale, 2012), poems
어느 날 그가 왔다 (Seoul: Sanha Publishing Co., 2012)
Governor General's Award, Children's Literature for The Crazy Man (2005)
Texas Institute of Letters, Friends of the Austin Public Library Award for Young Adult Book for The Crazy Man (2006)
Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children (2006)
Jane Addams Foundation Honor Book for The Crazy Man (2006)
Geoffrey Bilson Historical Fiction Award for Children (2006)
TD Canadian Literature Award (2006)
Hackmatack Award (2007)
OLA Golden Oak Award (2007)
Rocky Mountain Book Award (2007)
Manitoba Young Readers' Choice Award (2007)
Red Cedar Award (2008)
New Mexico Book Award (2009) for Yellow Moon, Apple Moon
Pat Lowther Award in Poetry (2011) finalist for Cathedral