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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"I'm getting a little chilly myself..."

 We checked in at the A-frame today, wondering how the place had fared after a weekend ice-storm. Because the cold continues, trees struggle to bear the weight of 3/4" of ice. The sun makes it all beautiful - but it's a dangerous beauty.

The A-frame's looking fine. Lots of small branches have dropped from the more brittle older trees. The creaking of the trees reminds me not to linger too long beneath them. Long enough to think of the number of times Al wrote about ice, snow, and cold, oh the cold.

"-scrambling along
the rocky shore
late at night
in zero cold and silence
I stand hesitating on the armoured lake
ice two feet thick
then hear
the sound of trumpets
clash of cymbals
right under my feet
deep penetrating
my bones' marrow
-lake ice splitting
from shore to distant shore..."

 from January at Roblin Lake, to Paris never again (1997)

 "Dissatisfied with myself
I wander back to the house
peer out the kitchen window
remembering the birth-cry of ice
while the world behind glass
is changing into winter....

from The Freezing Music, Naked with Summer in your Mouth (1994)

 "The earth is frozen
the beautiful trees are frozen
even the mailbox's metal nose is cold
and I'm getting a little chilly myself
living in a house I built one tropical summer...."

in One Rural Winter, The Cariboo Horses (1965)
comes lumbering around the stalled
Quaternary glaciers to deliver his ancient
                                 thundering manifesto
modified to suit the times-
roaming the bed clothes of earth-
Warm in the cold hutch rabbits endure
their scarcities"....

from Country Snowplow, The Cariboo Horses (1965)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cottage Life

Just got a call from Eurithe.

Cottage Life TV has just posted their recent 'My Retreat' series online.

One of the segments, Part 2 of Episode 10, 'Artists' Inspiration' - for which Eurithe and Steve Heighton did interviews in August - features the A-frame, interviews, stills and video.

It looks warm. Inviting. Recalling past memories.
Looking forward to making some more, with new writers in residence, starting 2014.

Have a look.
Nice job, WhistleStop Productions.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

that Parkhurst girl

On our trip to the country north of Belleville this weekend, I made a long-hoped for stop at McArthur's Mills. No mill stands beside this pond today; instead a homey B&B gives the spot's beauty more attention that it got in the old milling days.

This is the loveliest spot in the village. The one business was a very busy gas-grocery-LCBO complex in an old house. We stopped in the crowded parking lot, and I dashed across the speedy highway to take a moment, and a photo.

to find the actual Parkhurst homestead
I shall have to enquire the way of Eurithe
1943 - courtesy E.Purdy
A few scattered village houses, then back into the silence of the country. On a farm such as the one above, carved from the forest and rocks, was born one Eurithe Mary Jane Parkhurst. In early years here she learned her determination, her make-do attitude, her strength and forbearance, her practicality, fearlessness and imperturbability.

She needed all of those as she made her life with Al Purdy.

Eurithe and son Jim, 1945
photo courtesty E. Purdy
It seems to me, in coming to know her, in learning their story through Al's autobiography, and in appreciating the stunning poems which she inspired, that Eurithe is too often underestimated - for her wit, her perceptiveness, her astonishing intelligence, her vast literary knowledge, her understanding of the world through a well-travelled life - relegated perhaps to that practical shadowy figure who fed authors and put up with shenanigans. But I don't need to speak for Eurithe.
Al can do it. In the poignant preface to his last book 'Beyond Remembering' , poems selected by Al and editor Sam Solecki, Al Purdy creates a image of Eurithe in this interchange:

"...And to thank Eurithe for many many reasons. I said to her a moment ago, 'What does it feel like to live with someone who write poems most of his life and yours?'
She said, 'To me it feels normal. I can't compare it with anything else. It was a life.'
Sure it was a life. But can't I wring even a modest superlative out of her like: 'Al, it was wonderful! I loved every minute of it!' Couldn't she lie a little just to make me happy? I tell you it's maddening to live with a woman who always has to tell the truth...."

Al could do it. And so could his poems. Read The Horseman of Agawa. And there are many many others.

It was quite a life. And still is. Eurithe is a difficult woman to keep up with.
photographer unknown.
Printed in The Al Purdy A-Frame Anthology
Harbour Publishing 2009

"and we must enquire the way of strangers-"

near Schutt
 I grew up on a five-generation farm in the (relatively) gentle countryside of Prince Edward County, "the fat south with inches of black soil on the earth's round belly" in the words of one Al Purdy. A Sunday drive for our farmer father was a rare break from work and worry, an opportunity to check out other farmers' industry or lack thereof.

On any tour through farming country, I still hear dad's voice commenting on slovenly fencelines and poorly stored equipment, or fine fat cattle and good crops. On drives into the north (as central and north Hastings County was known) dad would talk about the "poor farms" and sympathize with the futile efforts of the farmers there.  I was awakened to the inequity of land grants, the dishonesty of the colonization road promises, the plain bad luck of farmers taking a stand in this rocky and unforgiving place.

These days, in the hard country of North Hastings county, the resonance is deeper still, as I hear the voice of Al Purdy wherever a turn in the road reveals a tumble-down barn, a log house never replaced by a newer better frame home, a fence going back to the earth, piles of hand-picked stones.

 "and where the farms are
                  it's as if a man stuck
both thumbs in the stony earth and pulled

                               it apart
                               to make room
enough between the trees
for a wife
               and maybe some cows and
               room for some
of the more easily kept illusions-"

 "This is the country of our defeat
                   and yet
during the fall plowing a man
might stop and stand in a brown valley of the furrows
                 and shade his eyes to watch for the same
                 red patch mixed with gold
                 that appears on the same
                 spot in the hills
                 year after year
                 and grow old
plowing and plowing a ten-acre field until
the convolutions run parallel to his own brain-"

"...a little adjacent to where the world is
a little north of where the cities are and
we may go back there
                                 to the country of our defeat..."

All quotations are from 'The Country North of Belleville', first published in The Cariboo Horses (1965). Only by reading the entire poem, aloud, preferably in a stony North Hastings field, can the power of this most beloved of Purdy's poems be truly appreciated.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The poem made me do it

We travelled west this summer, 6 weeks in a tiny trailer, looking at this giant country, following Cariboo gold fever routes and Slocan silver discoveries, hearing the ranching story and the whisky fort clash of first nations and European interlopers, loving the wild nature.

I had never been to the Cariboo, although Denis had in the younger days, desert racing. All I knew is that I wanted to go there. Mostly because of a poem - The Cariboo Horses. Largely because of the images
Al Purdy creates about the world he experienced there in the early 1960's.
Cariboo horses

 Words like these:

" At 100 Mile House the cowboys ride in rolling
stagey cigarettes with one hand reining
half-tame bronco rebels on a morning grey as stone....."

and then:
"But only horses
                         waiting in stables
hitched at taverns
                         standing at dawn
pastured outside the town with
jeeps and fords and chevys and
busy muttering stake trucks rushing
importantly over roads of man's devising..."

                                        "On the high prairie
are only horse and rider
                         wind in dry grass
clopping in silence under the tall mountains
dropping sometimes and
                       lost in the high grass
                       golden apples of dung...."

Between these pictures, Al takes the reader back to the wild history of these domestic beasts, to their genetic memory - the last Quagga, Egyptian Kiangs, Asian Onagers. Back and forth. As he does.

I expected the Cariboo to be the same landscape as the Shuswap, dry sagebrush country, but above Clinton, the hills became more forested and the country...different. For Denis, surprise at  more prosperous and polished towns and cities, outward-looking, with good services for travellers, visitor reception centres.

If I were a poet....

'The Cariboo Horses' ends with an image of horses on domestic errands, standing at the town hitching rail among motor vehicles: "Only horses.....arriving here at chilly noon/in the gasoline smell of the/dust and waiting 15 minutes/at the grocer's."
100 Mile House is billed as the Handcrafted Log Home
Capital of North American
105 Mile House Historic Ranch

Cariboo wedding venue

Chasm Provincial Park

P.S. After careful research I regret to inform the reader that as of August 2013, the domestic pickup has replaced the horse (whatever its lineage) at the hitching rails of the Cariboo.

Monday, September 30, 2013

See ya in church, Al

 Were Al Purdy to be associated with any church, it's likely to be the Gothic church in Ameliasburgh, conjured so ominously in the poem 'Wilderness Gothic'.

Saturday, September 28 changed all that, as the talented actor/director Richard Turtle presented David Carley's one-man play 'Al Purdy at the Quinte Hotel' at Jeff Keary's performance venue in the 1849 former Methodist Church in Rednersville, Prince Edward County.

Richard did a superb job, moving smoothly from monologue to Purdy's poems. He was Al. I'm quite convinced I cannot do this man or the performance justice. So look for and don't miss Richard and 'Al Purdy at the Quinte Hotel' when it comes around again....A-framer Michele Lintern-Mole is exploring opportunities with Richard.

Jeff and Tracey Keary with Eurithe Purdy 

Eurithe Purdy graciously attended, queenly in an overstuffed armchair; I hope its comfort compensated for all those eyes turning to gauge her reaction at Richard's line "I wouldn't want to go to jail for killing a thing like you!"

"I'm used to it," she said afterwards,with characteristic understatement.

Eurithe contributed two jars of hand-picked homemade wild grape jam to the silent auction. Yesterday some lovely folks in Toronto enjoyed it on their breakfast toast.
beer bottle & plaid jacket...

...and Al Purdy

 The Methodists were not a musical bunch, much too sober for that in the day. So it's as well that the superb acoustics of the church/studio were saved for today's congregations who enjoy jazz evenings and a variety of other performers at Active Arts Studio. At Saturday's Purdy Celebration, guitar player/singer Morley Ellis entertained - and what that man can't play...! His last song by the Travelling Wilburys, travelled with me for several days afterwards. Look for Morley, a Marmora boy!

Martin Durkin, Crazy Irishman

 Courageous the poet who agrees to read opposite Al Purdy. Martin Durkin, another local boy returned to his native Stirling, read from his work - and it stood up! Chris Faiers has long known Martin, and suggested he read at the event. Good writer. Good reader. It's the Irish in him.

Martin's work appears regularly on his CrazyIrishman blog, and recently poet Chris Faiers featured two of Martin's 'soup poems' on his Riffs and Ripples from Zen River Gardens site.
Kelly Bacon & Martin Durkin, Chris Faiers, Richard Turtle
And behind the scenes the usual suspects set up shop with a silent auction of signed Purdy titles, copies of the A-frame Anthology, and the Lowthian print of the A-frame. Raised five hundred and fifty bucks toward the A-frame restoration. Did OK.

And the most astonishing and gratifying thing about this splendid day was the generosity of folks. Everything: Jeff and Tracey's venue, Richard's acting and his sound technician's expertise, Martin's reading and Morley's playing - all this was done gratis, time and talent donated to support the A-frame cause. And in the same spirit, the folks who came donated freely and graciously.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Saturday September 28, a treat for Purdy Fans at Active Arts in Rednersville

116 Barley Road, Rednersville
come experience the acoustics in this marvellous venue
As part of Culture Days, Jeff Keary of the stunning Active Arts Studio (the old stone church in Rednersville, Prince Edward County)  is presenting an Al Purdy A-frame fundraiser. This unique event is scheduled from 1PM - 6PM on Saturday, September 28.
Richard Turtle at the July Purdy Picnic

Hope to see you there!!

The afternoon will feature two performances (at 1:30 and 5:00 P.M.) of the play 'At the Quinte Hotel', written by David Carley, based on Al Purdy's famous poem. Richard Turtle is the featured actor, backed by an original musical score performed by Andy Thompson at the 1:30 performance.

Copies of the A-frame Anthology and art prints will be available, and there will be a silent auction featuring some Purdy titles, and Eurithe Purdy's home-made wild grape jam (cash sales only, please).

Poet Martin Durkin will read, and Morley Ellis, folk singer, will perform in the intermission.

Eurithe Purdy will be guest of honour.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


For the many years we lived in Grand Forks, B.C. and drove to and from Vancouver, this glimpse of the Similkameen marked a milestone on the journey, the entry to the Boundary country and close to home.
On a bright September morning just recently, we took time to stop and listen to the river. It's a flat, brook-like affair in late dry summer, but a terrifying menace during spring melt, leaving giant trees high up on the beach to remind us that the Similkameen's not just another picnic spot.

Because we took the time, this time, the Similkameen didn't just flash past our eyes, but washed over our souls. Because we listened to the river for once.

And undoubtedly, because of this:

"'-say the names say the names
and listen to yourself
an echo in the mountains
Tulameen    Tulameen
say them like your soul
was listening and overhearing
and you dreamed you dreamed
you were a river
and you were a river...

....Similkameen and Nahanni
say them say them remember
if ever you wander elsewhere
'the North as a deed and forever'
Kleena Kleene    Nahanni
Osoyoos and Similkameen
say the names
as if they were your soul
lost among the mountains
a soul you mislaid
and found again rejoicing
Tulameen    Tulameen
till the heart stops beating 

                                                                        say the names."

                                                                                (from Say the Names, Beyond Remembering, p.579 )

I can't read this poem without hearing George Bowering's powerful voice exhorting us to Say the Names, as he, and three generations of poets, performed this astonishing poem on stage at Koerner Hall during last February's Purdy event.

I like how Al borrowed a line from another poet, who also strove to convey his passion for this country of ours. 'To Hold in a Poem' (1954) by A.J.M.Smith contains the line "the North as a deed and forever" : "To hold in a verse as austere/ as the prairie and river/lonely, unbuyable, dear/the North, as a deed, and forever"