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Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 21, 2000

"On a green island in Ontario...built a house and found the woman..."
Today is Al Purdy Day.
In 2009 the League of Canadian Poets proclaimed it.
It is the day on which, in 2000, Al's "body left his body" and entered into the Al Purdy legend (although he was doing a decent job of entering that legend while still very much alive). The league of poets suggests you recognize this day: barbeque red meat, read, write, drink... and make poetic history by donating to the A-frame trust.

Appropriately, the A-Frame Residency program, that longed-for writer-in-residence idea made reality for the A-frame, has just announced its call for applications. Here's the link . Good a way as one can possibly think of  to celebrate Purdy day!

This portal to Harbour Publishing provides all the links and background you could possibly want about the day, the man, the poetry, the next steps.

We celebrated Purdy Day all day. Visited the graveyard. Sat in the sun on the A-frame deck. Listened to Al read some stuff on cassette. Read some poems. Wanted to revisit the poem that provided the lines for Al's gravestone, so I reread 'Her Gates Both East and West'.

"This is where I came to
when my body left its body
and my spirit stayed
in its spirit home."

We all know those lines so well. The other lines in Her Gates Both East and West, not so well. I read it aloud, and the pictures Al painted took me to many places we'd been also. Nice to compare notes.
"In the Alberta prairie badlands camped by the vanished Bearpaw sea..."

Nice to see our country in your poem. Robert Wiersema, in a Quill and Quire review of Beyond Remembering, stated that the poem is "probably the finest poem about Canada one is likely to read." Not much argument, I'm guessing.

"the freight train a black caterpillar climbing,climbing,climbing..."

"I suppose it's like a kid growing up
to see the parts of your own country
like a jigsaw that suddenly comes together
and turns into a complete picture
and you've touched nearly all the parts...

The millenium really makes little difference
except as a kind of unsubtle reminder of 
the puzzle that is yourself and always changing
the country that you wandered like a stranger
but stranger no longer
yourself become undeniable to yourself
wearing the lakes and rivers towns and cities
a country that no man can comprehend..."

"Camped by the South Saskatchewan"...
"the Rocky Mountains fold themselves upward/giants rising slowly"...
"Beside the seething Fundy waters my friend sleeps..."
Actually, Al. The millenium, if by that you mean the year 2000 (the mathematically challenged among us still struggle with that concept) made a great deal of difference to many of us. Lost you.

Snippets of Al's wonderful poem reduced to captions to say thanks for giving us our country. For naming these places for us. For making us more Canadian somehow, and damned proud of it. Miss ya Al.

"walked four miles in the rain (you blamed me for)
to l'Anse aux Meadows..."

(Her Gates Both East and West, published in New Poems, 1999)

"and if by chance we are not alone
some traveller on another planet
may catch a glimpse of us sometimes
looking outward into the night sky."

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