Trade Customers click here
← Back to Book Main Page

Table of Contents and Al Purdy's Afterword

The Dead Poet (from The Stone Bird, 1981)
Poems for All the Annettes (1962)
Spring Song
Remains of an Indian Village
At the Quinte Hotel
House Guest
The Cariboo Horses (1965)
The Cariboo Horses
Song of the Impermanent Husband
Necropsy of Love
Hockey Players
Home-Made Beer
One Rural Winter
Winter at Roblin Lake
Roblin's Mills
The Country North of Belleville
Fidel Castro in Revolutionary Square
North of Summer (1967)
Trees at the Arctic Circle
Arctic Rhododendrons
Still Life in a Tent
When I Sat Down to Play the Piano
What Do the Birds Think?
The Country of the Young
Dead Seal
Wild Grape Wine (1968)
The Winemaker's Beat-Étude
Watching Trains
Dark Landscape
The Drunk Tank
Sergeant Jackson
Roblin's Mills (2)
About Being a Member of Our Armed Forces
Lament for the Dorsets
Wildemess Gothie
The Runners
Over the Hills in the Rain, My Dear
Love in a Burning Building (1970)
Married Mans Song
Sex and Death (1973)
Dead March for Sergeant MacLeod
The Horseman of Agawa
The Beavers of Renfrew
For Robert Kennedy
Sundance at Dusk (1976)
The Hunting Camp
Alive or Not Inside the Mill
A Handful of Earth (1977)
The Death Mask
A Handful of Earth
Prince Edward County
The Stone Bird (1981)
Journey to the Sea
May 23, 1980
Red Fox on Highway 500
Shot Glass Made From a Bull's Hom
In the Garden
Birdwatching at the Equator
Piling Blood (1984)
Piling Blood
In the Beginning was the Word
Adam and No Eve
In the Early Cretaceous
Museum Piece
Collected Poems (1986)
Elegy for a Grandfather
The Smell of Rotten. Eggs
The Woman on the Shore (1990)
The Prison Lines at Leningrad
Quetzal Birds
The Others
In the Desert
On the Flood Plain
Naked with Summer in Your Mouth (1994)
Glacier Spell
Procne into Robin
On Being Human

[Once, on Baffin Island,] I was curled up in a sleeping bag, feeling lost at the world's edge, bereft of family and friends. As the tide went out, icebergs were left stranded on the beach. With the water's support removed, they collapsed on themselves with a crash whose echoes kept repeating themselves. A dog would howl, and others join in, a bedlam chorus. Old Squaw ducks moaned about how awful life was, an OUW-OUW-OUW dirge for the living. And all these sounds repeated themselves, as if some mad god were howling from distant mountains.

Somewhere in my head a poem began. One of the lines was about those ducks, the loneliness and defeat the birds signified: "I think, to the other side of that sound": I think to a place where uncertainty and loneliness are ended, to a happier time. But, I say to myself now, think again: I was never really happier than when I was lying in a sleeping bag on an Arctic island, listening to those noisy ducks at the top of the world and writing a poem. ("To See the Shore: A Preface," The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, p. xvi [ 1986])

Poetry. What is it for, what does it do, what is the use of it? In Canada, poetry reflects and foreshadows both country and people. It is the voice of reason, the voice of humanity, the voice that says "I am me." It allows us to know each other; like the CBC, it connects with all parts of the country. It says the little village of Ameliasburgh in Ontario has some relevance to, say, Granville Ferry in Nova Scotia. Above all, poetry says you are us and we are citizens of here and now, this space, this air, and this time. ("Disconnections," Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 49 [Summer 1993], p. 187)

I started to write at age twelve or thirteen, partly through interest in other people's writing (Bliss Carman, Robert Louis Stevenson, G.K. Chesterton, for example), but probably the largest reason was my own ego. I wanted attention. I think that is the principal reason for many youthful activities. ("Disconnections," Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 49 [Summer 1993], p. 213)

One question about poems has always puzzled me: why do I write them? At first the reason was sheer ego, I wanted attention . . . But that original reason for writing has been succeeded by others, among them a raging desire for some kind of personal excellence, whose validity would endure against time. And yet that is a paradox, since I think a poem's validity belongs, principally, to its own particular moment of creation. Therefore, all are a series of moments emerging from their own time. At least they emerge as their own kind of truth, if the impulses that created them were valid in the first place. (A Handful of Earth, p. [8] 119771)

As a writer, I've always felt like an eternal amateur. Even after writing poems all my life, I'm never entirely confident that the next poem will find its way into being. And then I find myself writing one, without knowing exactly how I got there. ("To See the Shore: A Preface," The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, p. xviii [ 19861)

To my mind, what a poem ought to do is cause the reader to feel and think, balanced on nearly the same moment as myself when I wrote it. And I'd prefer to be understood with a minimum of mental strain by people as intelligent or more so than myself. I'd like them to hear the poem aloud when they read it on the page, which some people can do with poems they like.

Ideally, I'd like to say a thing so well that if the reader encounters a passage in a poem of mine which has much the same rhythm and ordinariness as this prose passage he or she is reading now: that that passage would suddenly glow like coloured glass in a black and white world. Which is probably a hopeless ambition. (Bursting into Song, p. 11 [1982])

[Poems] are my umbilical cord with the world and with other people, a two-way cord. They connect with sources I'm not even aware of, and if I were the poems would be impossible. What was it Yeats said about poems being "a quarrel with one's self"? Probably true, with inner arguments resolved or not in poems. (A Handful of Earth, p. [81 [1977])

[In my love poems] it isn't just the euphoric dreams of lovers I want to evoke, it's the ridiculosity inherent in the whole comic disease. And the mordant happiness of despair as well. Pain and its red blot in the brain, sorrow that things end, fade into little rags of memory that haunt us in their absence. (How wonderful to be made of stone and endure forever! Except, in some mysterious way, that which has existed truly once does last forever.) ("On Being Romantic," Love in a Burning Building, p. [10] [1970])

Well, what does the reader want from a poem? ... Primarily, I suppose, to be entertained. And that involves tuning in on some emotion or feeling or discovery that is larger and more permanent than he is. Some flashing insight that adds a new perspective to living. Values also. And that is a great deal. Most of the time it's asking far too much. ("Leonard Cohen: A Personal Look," Starting from Ameliasburgh, p. 197 [1965, 19951)

Re intent, I prefer Earle Birney's opinion ... that whatever meaning or levels of meaning the reader "extracts" from the work, this meaning is legitimate and valid. Because (my own comment as well as Birney's) there is something in a writer's head which causes him or her to incorporate meanings and possible interpretations he (or she) doesn't even know are there. ("Margaret Atwood's The Journals of Susanna Moodie," Starting from Ameliasburgh, pp. 239-40 [ 1971, 1995])

Rhyme and metre are not outdated, and I'm sure Pound must have suspected that. Both have lasted a thousand years, and will last many more .... I quite often use rhyme myself, and metre as well, trying to vary and conceal it within poems where it isn't expected and seems accidental if you do notice it. But I generally let a poem go where it seems to want to go, then touch it here and there deliberately, add metre say, or remove metre, add or remove a rhyme if too close to another rhyme. Perhaps it's not quite as artless as you seem to think? (Letter to George Johnston, 10 Aug. 1980)

Your mention of the "circular route" is also appropriate, since many poems I write are circular, that is coming back to some remark at the beginning in order to - not become self-contained - do what? I don't always. know without looking at a particular poem: perhaps because our own lives seem to me circular in many ways, in that we never escape our own past and are always affected by it, and a poem's past is our own in minuscule. (Letter to George Galt, 25 Dec. 1978)

I dislike the strong implication that to employ natural speech idioms is the best or only way to write poetry. There seem to me to be a million ways to write a poem. To exclude any of them is to make academic strictures on what poems are and should be. ("Charles Bukowski's It Catches My Heart in its Hands," Starting from Ameliasburgh, p. 190 [1964, 19951)

I snapped out of that lost soul condition in the air force during the war years; and found new prosodic mentors in Vancouver in 1950. Dylan Thomas, of course, was the foremost of these.

I learned much from Layton in Montreal during my stint there in 1956 and later. And then I think I was overwhelmed by my own discoveries of new writers. It was wonderful to roll and tumble in the loose and magnificent rhythms of Yeats, the stem and sometimes puzzling disciplines of Auden, and most of all to be fascinated and enthralled by Lawrence. I don't say Lawrence is the best of those three, but he's the writer I learned most from, and whose own life was equally fascinating to me. (Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, pp. 286-7 [1993])

Lawrence learned much from Walt Whitman, and I can see how and why he could do so. Yet Whitman's work seems to me nearly mindless cliche by comparison to Lawrence's, despite Randall Jarrell's panegyric. (I want to like a poet because of his or her effect on me now, not for past influence on poetry in general.) Lawrence was drawn by Whitman's tone, his openness of line, his running on and on wherever thought would take him. Whitman refused to be dictated to by other men's thinking, by traditions of prosody, by the pretentious notion that if one was writing a poem one must say what a poem was supposed to say, must scan and rhyme.

Lawrence knew that a poem could say anything. The Is and Ts could dance together on paper, the As and Ls could fly to the moon without wings. Words anchored his thought to paper so that the mind became corporeal and yet weightless. So that he wrote his life in his poems, and toward the end of his life he wrote his death. When a poet - myself in this case - is influenced enough by Lawrence, then he escapes all influence, including Lawrence. After DHL, all other influences merge seamlessly into your own work. You learn still, you always learn, but never again are you under a slavish obligation to another writer. ("Disconnections," Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 49, [Summer 19931 p. 216.)

In my lifetime, there have been many other writers whose work I've admired and absorbed. They are constantly nudging me somewhere in my unconscious mind. If I had to name two of the most important influences, D.H. Lawrence and Irving Layton would qualify. As examples, not tutors. And perhaps Milton Acorn gets in there somewhere as well; I learned from him both how to write and how not to write. (Very few people can teach you opposite things at the same time.) I think I've learned from everyone I've read, on some level, though I've digested their writing in ways that make it impossible for me to recognize it in my own work. All of us who write are indebted to everyone else who writes for our enthusiasms and craft (or sullen art). ("To See the Shore: A Preface," The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, p. xviii 119 86])

Northrop Frye's dictum that poems are created from poems seems to me partially true, in the sense that if other people's poems hadn't been written you couldn't have written your own. In that sense, what each of us writes balances and juggles the whole history of literature, and we are for that moment "the midland navel-stone" of earth. (A Handful of Earth, p. [81 [1977])

... you always choose and place poems [in a book] in such a way that they set each other off to advantage, opposites in mood or subject together or likes together. At least you hope they set each other off to advantage. (Bursting into Song, p. 10 [1982])

I read reviews to find out what's wrong with my writing; I read them for flattery and for truth, two opposite things. I regard myself as an odd kind of mainstream poet, and much closer to the style of mainstream American writers than British. And "mainstream" may be regarded here, in my case, as eccentric-conventional . . . Paradoxically, while I write
more like Canadian and US poets in style and diction, I like the slightly older British poets much better than the American ones. (Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, p. 283 [1993])

Travelling has almost been a way of life for this poet, especially in the last few years. Strange landscapes and foreign climes have produced a feeling of renewal, the earth itself has given me a sense of history, the stimulus of the original events carrying over in time and entering my own brain. ("To See the Shore: A Preface," The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, p. xv [1986])

And as a passing comment, there are few things I find more irritating about my own country than this so-called "search for an identity," an identity which I've never doubted having in the first place.

The environment, the land, the people, and the flux of history have made us what we are; these have existed since Canada's beginning, along with a capacity for slow evolvement into something else that goes on and on. And perhaps I would also include pride. Their total is all that any nation may possess. I think it is enough. ("Introduction," The New Romans, p. iii [1969])