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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"

Saturday, September 21, 2013

a pleasing symmetry

Laurence's Remington
Postmark: Neepawa, Manitoba.

"Dear Al - Thank Gawd for your letter! It arrived like a rain in a dry season, and I do mean dry, as I shall explain presently. So if this turns out to be about 10 airletters long, it is only because I feel a decided need to communicate with someone who knows what I am talking about."

(Elm Cottage, January 10, 1969.
In 'Margaret Laurence - Al Purdy: A Friendship in Letters, 1993, M&S. page 118)

Portait by Helen McLean
Laurence pilgrim in Neepawa

Al's workroom depleted of its vast book collection
Postmark: Ameliasburg, Ontario

"Greeting! And the letter to OntArts is fine. If the bastards turn me down this time I'll ----try again. I have all sorts of plans and projects in my mind, including a visit to Hiroshima. What about that one, eh? There are some places that breed poems, as I was sure of writing the Indian rock painting poem.Hiroshima is the same, and there would be several poems there, a real mother lode. Now go ahead and tell me one shouldn't look for poems, they should just catch one unawares....."

(Ameliasburg, 27 August, 1970. Ibid. p. 182)

Relief sculpture by Ann McDonald

Ameliasburgh, spring 2013

photo by John Reeves

Friday, September 20, 2013

Yours, Margaret

We're just back from a six-week road/camping trip across our great land. Only a budget-deflating mechanical breakdown kept us from a trip to Vancouver Island to visit the Purdy's ocean-side house in North Saanich, and to enjoy a beverage at the Waddling Dog in Esquimault, which occasioned the delights of 'No One Else is Lawrence' a beery collaboration between Al Purdy and Doug Beardsley (Harbour Publishing, 1998).

the Helen McLean portrait  - "I expect to grow old
raising cats and roses"

 But there were compensations.

In Neepawa Manitoba, we enjoyed a Margaret Laurence pilgrimage. Neepawa, of course, was the model for Laurence's fictional town of Maniwaka. So many threads of her life there were woven into the novels. An especially significant strand, for lovers of Purdy's work, was the literary friendship between the two Canadian writers, which flourished between 1967 and 1974.
A Friendship in Letters

After Laurence's death, John Lennox edited the collection and created the wonderful 'Margaret Laurence-Al Purdy A Friendship in Letters' (1993, M&S). His introduction to the book tells the story of the literary friendship so well that I shall not even attempt it.

Denis searching for Purdy titles

At one point, Laurence, in self-imposed literary exile (as it turned out) in UK, provided sanctuary for Al, and, more importantly, for a very ill Eurithe. I wonder if Eurithe, that woman known for offering copious amounts of tea, might have enjoyed tea from this very pot I found  repatriated, and shined within an inch of its life,enshrined  in a museum in Margaret Laurence's grandfather's home in Neepawa, where she lived until she was 18.
Laurence's teapot from Elm Cottage, Bucks.

From Al, for his friend Margaret:

"We argued about things
whether you should seek experience
or just let it happen to you
(me the former and she the latter)
and the merits of St. Paul
as against his attitude to women
(she admired him despite chauvinism)
But what pitifully few things
we remember about another person:
me sitting at her typewriter
at Elm Cottage in England....

...then going away to hunt books
while my wife recuperated
 from an operation...

(For Margaret, published in The Woman on the Shore, 1990, M&S)

later I sought out the stone angel
in Neepawa Cemetery