Al Purdy turned his poet's attention to frogs, heron and frozen apples, so why not politicians from those fractious Victorian days? He did have an eye for the foibles of humankind.
Small wonder thatAl wrote a poem about this sometime Prime Minister, Victorian Belleville's sort of public figure. 'The Statue in Belleville', published in 'Sundance at Dusk', memorialized 'our' Prime Minister.You can hear the gossip at the market or the pool hall in his words:
|Topley photo, Library and Archives Canada|
sometimes people forget but birds remember
to stop at "The Fixer" the man you went to
if you weren't a Catholic for a job
or favour of some kind or other"...
The poem recounts the story of cabinet ministers ("a nest of traitors" Bowell called them) calling at the prime minister's house to demand his resignation after his unpopulardecision on the Manitoba Schools Question, and describes his trip "to church and at Bridge Street United for being a sonuvabitch/forgave himself quite readily".
|Bridge Street United Church, Belleville|
This isn't one of Purdy's well-known poems, but I like it. Al's love of history and a good story led him here. And in how many poems do you find the word 'sonuvabitch'?
|Sir Mackenzie Bowell's home, 194 William Street|
|SMB is buried in Belleville Cemetery|
Al ends the poem philosophically:
" But maybe I left out part of this story
because if evil is penalized and good rewarded
there'd still at Old Home Week be hardly any people
Which is to say Belleville is a mid-size town
with mid-size people medium virtue among us
you know there are comparatively few heroes
except The Fixer - he's the best I can do
and some of us feel we couldn't do any better
times bein what they are and so if you don't mind
let's raise a cheer"
('The Statue in Belleville', Sundance at Dusk (1976)