The Purdy A-frame A-list: your money, your name, forever
Originally posted on by Leslie Kenney on the Descant Blog, Jan. 24/14
People are funny and generous and kind. But mostly funny.
That’s why Descant blog commenter “RW” had such a great idea: why not print the actual list of items needed to restore the Al and Eurithe Purdy A-frame? Sure, folks who can will click a website’s “donate” button from time to time. But if you knew you could have the most famous and literary septic pump named after you, wouldn’t you dig deeper and jump at the chance?
Thanks to the help of the Purdy A-Frame Association President, Jean Baird, and Project Manager, Duncan Patterson, Descant now has the list. The A-frame A-list. But since it’s just a list of items and amounts, I’ve taken some poetic liberty. Some would say a lot of poetic liberty.
Leonard Cohen has donated, although it’s not clear what he would like his name on. I’m guessing something close to the lake, where you can hear the boats go by.
What about you? What would you like to install in your name at Al and Eurithe’s famous house on the shores of Roblin lake, where for 50 years the couple entertained, supported and (Al) argued with the Canadian writers we have come to love and appreciate?
All monies raised go to fixing up the physical structure of the house and property, impressively and carefully managed by Al Purdy admirer, Duncan Patterson, and to sustain a Writer-in-Residence program that will support and promote Canadian writers and literacy.
If you know Al Purdy’s poetry, you know that he, of all people, could make even a list poetic. With kind permission, I’ve tried to conjure him, in his own words, even though we all know that “poems will not really buy beer or flowers” [from At The Quinte Hotel… but you knew that].
So, whoever you are, “RW,” here’s that list. Get out your chequebook. You started this.
The Purdy A-frame A-list
Item Price Quantity
Decks 3k 2
This is where it happened – the heated discussions and arguments about poetry and politics. Young poets and novelists of the day came to eat and drink on the deck off the A-frame kitchen. And now new young writers will sit there, “between lightning flashes/writing” [After Rain], with “fingers like fireflies on the typewriter” [For Margaret]. Keypad, whatever.
Margaret Laurence and Al Purdy outside the A-frame. Their correspondence was published in Margaret Laurence, Al Purdy: A Friendship in Letters (McClelland & Stewart, 1994). (photo credit Hazel Legate, Flickr Creative Commons).
Trickle Pump 1k 1
The trickle pump ensures that there is always some water to pump to the house. It’s a kind of recovery system, if the well were to run dry. Need I say more? Al certainly didn’t love all his poems, but his well never dried up and he never gave up.
“my poems you have failed/but when I have recovered from/this treachery to myself/I shall walk among the hills chanting/and celebrate my own failure/transformed to something else.” [On Realizing He Has Written Some Bad Poems]
Well Pump 1k 1
When Al and Eurithe started building the A-frame in 1957, according to Al,
“… we pounded nails/and sawed boards, cussing and sweating a little/without money for electricity or plumbing/three lamps together and you might read a book/chopping thru winter ice for water/If the result wasn’t home it was a place to camp/and whatever gods there were/who permitted pain and defeat/also allowed brief content” [Old Man]
You can have a private chuckle, every day, knowing that all their hardship was, in the end, rewarded. By you. Someone who knows Al only through his poetry. You have to admit, he’d probably like that.
Septic Pump 1k 1
If I could swing it, this one’s for me. That is, if Michael Enright hasn’t beaten me to it. So very necessary, practical, unpoetic and yet…
“I am drinking beer with yellow flowers,” [Quinte Hotel] wrote Al, who once stood “…outside at night/after the requisite number of beers/and with a graceful enormous parabola/trying to piss on the stars/failing magnificently” [Attempt].
Al’s restored “gingham highrise.”
Washing Machine 600 1
Imagine that the cleaning machine you donate could one day wash the skivvies of a new Michael Ondaatje, George Elliott Clarke or Susan Musgrave? And washing machines are necessary, especially for poets, because “… love survives in the worst cologne” [Married Man’s Song].
Baseboard Heaters 500 5
“Later when it gets colder/one of the ladies/gives me a big piece/ of canvas to throw over the tent/and sews it on securely/ to keep me warm at night/ -What can I say?” [What Can’t Be Said]
Well, you could say that you are keeping warm the next generation of writers, a kind of incubator for creativity, the results of which often bring us to our knees. And our senses.
Front Hall Floor 600 1
The front hall floor at the Purdy A-Frame was a bit of a hazard when I was there last summer. I imagined the treacherous journey across it, after a few drinks. The front hall is the first thing you see when you enter the house and the piece of floor everyone must traverse, drunk or sober. It’s where writers you love have hugged hello and kissed goodbye for 50 years. Yours for $600. A deal at twice the price.
“I am thinking home is the ghost of home/and we are somewhere in between” [Old Man]
Things have improved since I took this photo of the front steps last summer.
Firewood shelter 500 1
In his poem House Guest, written about poet Milton Acorn, Purdy writes, “how the new house built with salvaged old lumber/bent a little in the wind and dreamt of the trees it came from.” Your shelter would protect the dreams of its inhabitants. For awhile.
Benches 500 10
What a lovely idea to donate a bench in your name, or your family’s name. Okay, it’s a tad cliché, but it’s one of the good ones. Writers and Purdy admirers will be able to sit on your bench, “like a small monk/in a green monastery/meditating/ almost sculpture” [The Last Picture in the World]. And when you come to visit, you too can sit there and watch for the great blue herons that left Al transfixed.
Writing Cabin Ceiling 500 1
A cabin without a ceiling is … a lean-to? For $500 it could be your ceiling that future renowned poets and novelists stare up at, searching for just that one right word that will propel them to infamy. Or the next sentence. You will be able to say that you are, literally, providing a roof (come on, the ceiling is attached to the roof) over the heads of future generations of Canadian writers. The cabin isn’t fancy and doesn’t face the lake, but, on the positive side, there’s nothing about it that would distract a writer from doing anything but write. While “there are rooms for rent in the outer planets,” [Married Man’s Song] Al’s writing cabin will do just fine.
The writing cabin, to the right of the A-frame. Here Purdy wrote many of the poems that would be published in 39 books. His poetry is filled with animals, birds, flowers, and the forests, mountains and lakes of the Canadian landscape; public figures and private friends; and many of his poems are shot through with a deep sense of failure, mourning, struggle… and the colour yellow.
Trees & Shrubs 250 20
The other items on this list are imperative for the structure to run well and last a long time, but let’s face it – trees and shrubs will last longer. How great to have a tree growing on the Purdy property, in your name. Your literary soil-and-sun dependent metaphor, something to feed your “… small passion for permanence” [An Arrogance]. Something to block out the sounds of the busy-body world, “Beyond our trees that belong/to themselves the highway/traffic’s sullen sounds/a quietness in our bones” [Our Wilderness].
And buying a shrub is good, too, although, “expect only a small whisper/of birds nesting and green things growing/and a brief saying of them” [The Dead Poet].
Still can’t find the perfect thing, the one pragmatic item you would like affixed with your name for all eternity (or whatever the guarantee states)? Well, “the bill is due and the desk clerk wakes” [Married Man’s Song] so I’ll leave you with the rest of the list. Grab a book of Al’s poems and see which of these strikes at your core. It’s just a little A-frame on a little treed property, but, as Al observed, “…the way humans attach emotion/to one little patch of ground/and continually go back there/in the autumn of our lives/to deal with some of the questions/that have troubled us” [Red Leaves].
Ceiling fan 120 2
Exhaust fan 300 3
Pressure tank 500 1
Sprayed Polyurethane Insulation 3k 1
Sump Pump 1k 1
Drainage ditch 4k 1
Air to Air heat exchanger 6k 1
If you leave a comment below, I can put you in touch with the A-Frame Association and you can discuss with them the size of the name plaque you want for literary eternity. For $25,000, the entire list is yours and I’m sure something legacy-worthy can be arranged.
The Al Purdy poems from which the lines above were borrowed, with all due respect to Al, appear here with permission. All for the ultimate purposes of making more sturdy the house, the memories and the future that Eurithe and Al Purdy built, on the shores of Roblin Lake.
All these poems can be found in Al’s last book, Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, which he and Sam Solecki put together before Purdy’s death in 2000, for Harbour Publishing. And for Eurithe.