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Forewords by Atwood and Ondaatje and Table of Contents

FOREWORD by Margaret Atwood
I began to read Al Purdy's poetry about the same time it changed from being odd and ungainly to being remarkable - in the early sixties. I was just into my twenties, writing a lot of poetry but not liking much of it; like most young poets then, I wanted to be published by Contact Press - a highly respected poet-run co-operative - and I read everything issued by it; and thus I read Purdy's Poems for All the Annettes in 1962, when it first came out.
I was somewhat frightened by it, and did not fully understand it. This was a new sort of voice for me, and an overpowering one, and a little too much like being backed into the corner of a seedy bar by a large, insistent, untidy drunk, who is waxing by turns both sentimental and obscene. For a young male poet of those days, this kind of energy and this approach - casual, slangy, subversive of recent poetic convention - could be liberating and inspirational, and some found in him an ersatz father figure. But for a young female poet - well, this was not the sort of father figure it would be altogether steadying to have.

Then, in 1965, The Cariboo Horses - Purdy's breakthrough book - came out, and I found that the drunk in the bar was also a major storyteller and mythmaker, though still wearing his offhand and indeed rather shabby disguise. This is poetry for the spoken voice par excellence - not an obviously rhetorical voice, but an anecdotal voice, the voice of the Canadian vernacular. Yet not only that either, for no sooner has Purdy set up his own limits than he either transcends or subverts them. Purdy is always questioning, always probing, and among those things that he questions and probes are himself and his own poetic methods. In a Purdy poem, high diction can meet the scrawl on the washroom wall, and as in a collision between matter and anti-matter, both explode.

It would be folly to attempt to sum up Purdy's poetic universe: like Walt Whitman's, it's too vast for a precis. What interests him can be anything at all, but above all the wonder that anything at all can be interesting. He's always turning banality inside out. For me, he's above all an explorer - pushing into nameless areas of landscape, articulating the inarticulate, poking around in dusty corners of memory and discovering treasure there, digging up the bones and shards of a forgotten ancestral past. When he's not capering about and joking and scratching his head over the idiocy and pain and delight of being alive, he's composing lyric elegies for what is no longer alive, but has been - and, through his words, still is. For underneath that flapping overcoat and that tie with a mermaid on it and that pretence of shambling awkwardness - yes, it's a pretence, but only partly, for among other things Purdy is doing a true impersonation of himself - there's a skillful master-conjurer. Listen to the voice, and watch the hands at work: just hands, a bit grubby too, not doing anything remarkable, and you can't see how it's done, but suddenly, where a second ago there was only a broken vase, there's a fistful of brilliant flowers.


FOREWORD by Michael Ondaatje
We were very young and he was hitting his stride - Poems for All the Annettes, The Cariboo Horses. There had been no poetry like it yet in this country. Souster and Acorn were similar, had prepared the way, but here was a voice with a "strolling" not "dancing" gait or metre, climbing over old fences in Cashel township... (And who ever wrote about "township lines" in poems before Al did?)
And with this art of walking he covered greater distances, more haphazardly, and with more intricacy. Cashel and Ameliasburg and Elzevir and Weslemkoon are names we can now put on a literary map alongside the Mississippi and The Strand. For a person of my generation, Al Purdy's poems mapped and named the landscape of Ontario, just as Leonard Cohen did with Montreal and its surroundings in The Favourite Game.

We were in our twenties (and I speak for my friends Tom Marshall and David Helwig, who were there with me) and we didn't have a single book to our names; we were studying or teaching at the university in Kingston.

. . . And Al and Eurithe simply invited us in. And why? Because we were poets! Not well-known writers or newspaper celebrities. Did Kipling ever do that? Did D.H. Lawrence? Malcolm Lowry had done that for "Al- something or other" in Dollarton, years earlier. These visits became essential to our lives. We weren't there for gossip, certainly not to discuss royalties and publishers. We were there to talk about poetry. Read poems aloud. Argue over them. Complain about prosody. We were there to listen to a recording he had of "The Bonnie Earl of Murray." And sometimes we saw Al's growing collection of signed books by other Canadian poets. (My favourite dedication among them was "To Awful Al from Perfect Peggy.")

All this changed our lives. It allowed us to take poetry seriously. This happened with and to numerous other young poets all over the country, right until the last days of Al Purdy's life. He wasn't just a "sensitive" man, he was a generous man.

Most of all we should celebrate his fervent, dogmatic desire to write poetry. A glass-blower makes money. A worm-picker has a more steady income. Al, a man who had the looks and manner of a brawler, wanted to be a poet. And what is great is that he was a bad poet for a long time and that didn't stop him. That's where the heroism comes in.
And when he became a good, and then a great poet, he never forgot the significance and importance of those bad poets - they were rather like those small homes and farms north of Belleville, "a little adjacent to where the world is," and about to sink into the earth. He had been there. It gave his work a central core of humbleness, strange word for Al. It resulted in the double take in his work, the point where he corrects himself.

"I have been stupid in a poem..."

As he was not ashamed to whisper in a poem - this in a time of mid-century bards. Al never came with bardic trappings.
"Who is he like?" you ask yourself. And in Canada there is no one.

I can't think of a single parallel in English literature. It almost seems a joke to attempt that. He was this self-taught poet from up the road. What a brave wonder.
So how do we respond to all that Al was and stood for?
The great Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who was pretty close to Al in some ways, had by the time of his death become the embodiment of what his country's culture was, and stood for, and stood against. Fellow Scottish poet Norman MacCaig recognized MacDiarmid's contribution by saying: "Because of his death, this country should observe two minutes of pandemonium."


Table of Contents
Foreword by Margaret Atwood 17
Foreword by Michael Ondaatje 19
Preface 21

THE FIFTIES
The Crafte So Long to Lerne (1959)
At Evergreen Cemetery 25
From the Chin P'ing Mei 25
On the Decipherment of "Linear B" 26
Whoever You Are 27
Where the Moment Is 27
Love Song 28
Gilgamesh and Friend 29
At Roblin Lake 30

THE SIXTIES
Poems for All the Annettes (1962)
Poem for One of the Annettes 35
Postscript [1962] 36
Archaeology of Snow 37
The Listeners 41
For Norma in Lieu of an Orgasm 42
Spring Song 44
The Quarrel 45
O Recruiting Sergeants! 46
Evergreen Cemetery 47
Mind Process re a Faucet 49
Rural Henhouse at Night 50
Indian Summer 51
Remains of an Indian Village 51
The Blur in Between (1962)
Night Song for a Woman 53
Pause 54
The Old Woman and the Mayflowers 54
The Machines 55
Winter Walking 56
The Cariboo Horses (1965)
The Cariboo Horses 57
Thank God I'm Normal 59
Percy Lawson 59
Song of the Impermanent Husband 61
Mountain Lions in Stanley Park 63
Mice in the House 64
Lu Yu 64
Winter at Roblin Lake 65
In Sickness 65
Sestina on a Train 67
Necropsy of Love 68
Complaint Lodged with LCBO
by a Citizen of Upper Rumbelow 69
Old Alex 70
Hockey Players 71
Home-Made Beer 74
One Rural Winter 75
Roblin's Mills 77
The Country North of Belleville 79
Country Snowplow 81
What It Was - 82
The Viper's Muse 83
Death of John F. Kennedy 84
Fidel Castro in Revolutionary Square 86
Late Rising at Roblin Lake 88
Peonies Beside the Lake 88
Helping My Wife Get Supper 89
My Grandfather Talking - 30 Years Ago 90
Method for Calling Up Ghosts 91
The Old Girl Friend 92
Postscript [1965] 93
Transient 95
North of Summer (1967)
The North West Passage 97
Arctic Rhododendrons 99
Eskimo Graveyard 100
Trees at the Arctic Circle 102
Metrics 104
Tent Rings 107
Still Life in a Tent 109
When I Sat Down to Play the Piano 112
What Can't Be Said 114
Dead Seal 115
HBC Post 117
The Sculptors 118
At the Movies 120
Washday 121
What Do the Birds Think? 123
The Country of the Young 126
Poems for All the Annettes, Revised Edition (1968)
News Reports at Ameliasburg 127
House Guest 128
At the Quinte Hotel 130
Notes on a Fictional Character 132
Wild Grape Wine (1968)
The Winemaker's Beat-Étude 133
Detail 135
The Beach at Varadero 136
Dream of Havana 137
Hombre 138
Shoeshine Boys on the Avenida Juarez 141
Watching Trains 143
Shopping at Loblaws 145
Poem for Eda 147
Further Deponent Saith Not 147
Attempt 149
Love at Roblin Lake 150
Dark Landscape 150
Interruption 153
My '48 Pontiac 154
Roblin's Mills [II] 156
Wilderness Gothic 158
Boundaries 159
Lament for the Dorsets 160
The Runners 162
The Road to Newfoundland 164
Over the Hills in the Rain, My Dear 166
Private Property 167
About Being a Member of Our Armed Forces 168
Sergeant Jackson 169
Autumn 171
Skeleton by an Old Cedar 172
"Old Man Mad about Painting" 173
Death of a Young Poet 174
The Drunk Tank 176
Joe Barr 177

THE SEVENTIES
Love in a Burning Building (1970)
Poem 181
Married Man's Song 181
Idiot's Song 182
Joint Account 183
The Quest for Ouzo (1971)
At the Athenian Market 184
Hiroshima Poems (1972)
Remembering Hiroshima 185
On the Bearpaw Sea (1973, 1994) 187
Sex & Death (1973)
Tourist Itinerary 195
Melodrama 196
Flying Over Africa 197
The Jackhammer Syndrome 200
Depression in Namu, BC 202
Arctic Romance 203
Eastbound from Vancouver 203
A Graceful Little Verse 205
Dead March for Sergeant MacLeod 206
Wartime Air Base 207
Picture Layout in Life Magazine 208
The Horseman of Agawa 209
Temporizing in the Eternal City 211
Hands 213
In the Caves 214
Flat Tire in the Desert 218
The Battlefield at Batoche 219
The Beavers of Renfrew 222
Wilf McKenzie 225
Excess of Having 226
The Time of Your Life 227
The Peaceable Kingdom 230
Intruder 233
For Robert Kennedy 234
Power Failure in Disneyland 235
In Search of Owen Roblin (1974) 238
Sundance at Dusk (1976)
Lament 274
Kerameikos Cemetery 275
The Hunting Camp 275
Inside the Mill 277
Pre-School 278
The Children 279
Deprivations 281
In the Darkness of Cities 283
Alive or Not 285
Antenna 286
Paper Mate 287
Subject/Object 289
The Colour of Reality 291
Borderlands 291
Separation 292
Place of Fire 293
Ten Thousand Pianos 294
Shall We Gather at the River 295
"I Am Searching for You" 297
Rodeo 299
Homage to Ree-Shard 300
At Marsport Drugstore (1977)
Pour 303
A Handful of Earth (1977)
The Death Mask 305
Along the Ionian Coast 306
Funeral 308
In the Dream of Myself 309
Starlings 310
A Handful of Earth 311
Prince Edward County 313
Being Alive (1978)
Monastery of the Caves 315
On Realizing He Has Written Some Bad Poems 316
After Rain 317

THE EIGHTIES
The Stone Bird (1981)
The Dead Poet 323
Journey to the Sea 324
On the Hellas Express 325
Bestiary 326
D.H. Lawrence at Lake Chapala 328
In the Garden 331
Birdwatching at the Equator 332
Moses at Darwin Station 333
Darwin's Theology? 336
Moonspell 337
Near Tofino, Vancouver Island 338
Shot Glass Made from a Bull's Horn 339
Red Fox on Highway 500 340
The Nurselog 343
Spinning 344
May 23, 1980 345
The Darkness 346
Arctic Places 348
Fathers 349
Near Pátzcuaro 350
Mantis 351
Bursting into Song (1982)
Orpheus in Limbo 352
Piling Blood (1984)
Piling Blood 353
Menelaus and Helen 355
At Mycenae 359
Voltaire 360
Lost in the Badlands 362
In the Beginning Was the Word 367
Seal People 369
Iguana 370
Adam and No Eve 372
Birds and Beasts 374
Dog Song 2 375
A Typical Day in Winnipeg 376
Vancouver 379
Names 380
The Blue City 382
Double Focus 383
Gondwanaland 385
Victoria, BC 387
Death of DHL 388
Lawrence's Pictures 391
Bestiary [II] 394
Machines 396
Museum Piece 399
My Cousin Don 401
The Boy Accused of Stealing 403
The Strangers 405
Story 407
The Son of Someone Loved - 409
Choices 411
In Cabbagetown 412
The Tarahumara Women 414
The Uses of History 415
In the Early Cretaceous 418
How a Dog Feels to Be Old 420
Birds Here and Now 421
Collected Poems (1986)
Homer's Poem 423
Purely Internal Music 425
"- Great Flowers Bar the Roads" 426
Orchestra 428
Yes and No 430
This from Herodotus 431
On First Looking into Avison's "Neverness" 432
Home Thoughts 434
Elegy for a Grandfather [1986] 435
For Steve McIntyre 437
Caesar at Troy 438
The Smell of Rotten Eggs 441
Pre-Mortem 442

THE NINETIES
The Woman on the Shore (1990)
The Prison Lines at Leningrad 447
Quetzal Birds 448
Horses 448
Voyeur 450
Barn Burning 452
Red Leaves 454
Orchestra 455
Herodotus of Halicarnassus 456
On the Flood Plain 459
The Others 460
On the Death of F.R. Scott 462
I Think of John Clare 464
Questions 466
An Arrogance 467
For Margaret 469
Lawrence to Laurence 471
The Woman on the Shore 472
Springtime 473
Yellow Primavera in Mexico 473
The Gossamer Ending 475
Over the Sierra Maestras 476
Ulysses Alone 478
Naked with Summer in Your Mouth (1994)
Grosse Isle 478
Home 480
Naked with Summer in Your Mouth 482
Chac Mool at Chichen Itza 483
Woman 484
In the Desert 484
Earle Birney in Hospital 486
Yeats 487
The Freezing Music 489
Flight of the Atlantis 490
Bits and Pieces 491
Procne into Swallow 494
Insomnia 495
Concerning Ms. Atwood 496
Procne into Robin 498
On My Workroom Wall 499
Gary: Self-Portrait 501
Pneumonia 502
On Being Human 507
Seasons 509
Do Rabbits -? 510
Atomic Lullaby 512
Deity 513
Country Living 514
Wandering through Troy 515
Wanting 516
Glacier Spell 517
The Farm in Little Ireland 518
To - 519
Fragments 520
To Paris Never Again (1997)
Lament for Bukowski 521
To Paris Never Again 522
After the War 525
A Job in Winnipeg 526
Departures 528
Bruegel's Icarus 530
The Gods of Nimrud Dag 532
Marius Barbeau: 1883-1969 533
Listening to Myself 534
Machu Pichu 535
Untitled 536
Minor Incident in Asia Minor 537
Her Illness 539
134 Front St., Trenton, Ont 540
Becoming 542
The Names the Names 545
On the Beach 546
House Party - 1000 BC 548
In Turkey 551
Herself 552
My Grandfather's Country 553
Our Wilderness 556
In Cannakkale 557
For Her in Sunlight 559
In Mexico 560
In the Rain 572
The Stone Bird 573
Transvestite 575
New Poems (1999)
Say the Names 579
The Last Picture in the World 580
For Ann More 580
The Girl at Scara Brae 582
Friend 583
In Etruscan Tombs 584
For Curt Lang 586
Her Gates Both East and West 588
To See the Shore (Essay) 593
Editor's Note 599
Index of Titles 601