Sunday, 17 August 2014

Who the Hell Was This Al Purdy?

Drew Gough offers a stunning mediation on the experience of embracing a poet he once spurned:
For years, I’ve been looking for Al Purdy. But not before I spent years avoiding him, in the same way I avoided everything from the place where I grew up. I had the firm conviction that when you leave home—especially if home is a farm that doesn’t work as a farm, where the power is sometimes shut off because the electricity bill hasn’t been paid, on a laneway populated with tarot card readers, glass-blowers, playwrights and a woman firmly believed to be a witch, near a small town with no industry other than tourism and barely that anymore—you want to stay gone. You scorn home when it peeks its head into the new life you’ve built: during a casual run-in with an elementary school classmate on the streets of your new city, or when a poem about it appears on a third-year university syllabus. So entered Purdy into my early twenties, a lumbering force I was determined to dislike. “The Country North of Belleville?” When I said the name of his most famous poem in my head, it was always posed as a question. What, in the country north of Belleville, in the country I was trying to forget, could be worthy of a poem? What was there but rocks and hills and kind-of-pretty trees and funny names left behind by families who settled there and failed to build much? And who the hell was this Al Purdy?
(Photograph of Al Purdy's A-Frame cottage in Ameliasburgh, Ontario by Derek Shapton.)

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