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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Flood Plain

"Must have been a dry year when they built it," says Matti, the A-frame's contractor. Matti's the one working on the storied little house which Al and Eurithe Purdy built and inhabited while Al wrote some of the country's most memorable poetry, and Eurithe fed a new generations of poets.

One of the most interesting challenges for Matti is how to deal with the water in the crawl-space, water which over time has affected both the structure and the interior air quality. And fix it he will, as part of the rehabilitation of the A-frame into a comfy writer-in-residence abode, the staunchly held vision of the A-frame Association's prime mover, Jean Baird.

The basement has been wet because, as Matti pointed out, the property is low-lying, and the water-table beneath the A-frame lies at precisely the level of Roblin Lake, in the earthly logic of such things.

In 'Reaching for the Beaufort Sea' Al talks about bringing in fill to raise the level of the property:

"Our half-built house was erected on low-lying land; after a heavy rain the ground was flooded for a day or two. Jim Parkhurst and a helper were excavating a cellar in Belleville with jack hammer and pick and shovel at that time. It was suggested that I raise our front lawn's altitude with the contents of that Belleville cellar. So I drove an old truck back and forth several times a day, loaded with limestone strata, dumping and returning for more. Our front lawn became visibly higher." (page 164)

For Al everything was a poem. Work of that type inevitably inspires 'muscular poetry.'

In the poem 'On the Flood Plain' (The Woman on the Shore, 1990) Al lays out the issue while he communes with the frozen lake:

"People have told us we built too near the lake
'The flood plain is dangerous' they said
and no doubt they know more about it than we do...

and a few lines further on:

"I stand outside
between house and outhouse
feeling my body stiffen in fossilized rigor mortis
and listening
this is the reason we built on the flood plain
damn right
the seriousness of things beyond your understanding"...

I like to think that the energy of this poet and the literary lives lived here, generated heat that kept this little building standing despite the efforts of all that water and damp to dissolve it.

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