A celebration of Al Purdy

On display at the Al Purdy Show: a papier-mâché rendition of Al. Perched on the bar. Unfortunately I do not have the name of the artist, but perhaps a reader can help me out.

On display at the Al Purdy Show: a papier-mâché rendition of Al. Perched on the bar. Unfortunately I do not have the name of the artist, but perhaps a reader can help me.

A week ago tonight I was doing something that I hardly ever do: visiting Toronto. Raymond and I were among the capacity audience at Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music for an evening celebrating the life and work of poet Al Purdy, one of Canada’s greatest poets and one who truly heard, and conveyed, “the voice of the land.”

(One of the first things I did when I started this blog about the Manse was to seek permission from Al’s publisher to reprint my favourite of his poems, The Country North of Belleville; that post is here. The country north of Belleville is precisely where the Manse is.)

The Toronto event was a fundraiser for a project that I have written about before, notably here: the campaign to preserve the humble A-frame house that Al and his wife, Eurithe, built in the late 1950s in Prince Edward County, and put the house to future use for a poet-in-residence program. As admirers of Purdy’s work, of vernacular mid-century architecture, and of Prince Edward County, Raymond and I were happy to support the cause.

"A happy makeshift vision" is a nice description of Al and Eurithe's A-frame, a place of pilgrimage for generations of Canadian poets. They came to talk poetry with Al, and they stayed for beer and Eurithe's spaghetti. This was a display at the Al Purdy Show in Toronto Feb. 6.

“A happy makeshift vision” is a nice description of Al and Eurithe’s A-frame, a place of pilgrimage for generations of Canadian poets. They came to talk poetry with Al, and they stayed for beer and Eurithe’s spaghetti. This was a display at the Al Purdy Show in Toronto Feb. 6. Note the photo of Al outside his beloved outhouse at bottom right.

It was a terrific evening of poetry and music featuring the likes of Gordon Pinsent, George BoweringDennis Lee, Dave Bidini, Gord Downey and Margaret Atwood. (You can read Michael Enright‘s interview with Atwood on the occasion here, and my thanks to my pal Jim Withers for sending me that link.) But you don’t need me to tell you all about it; if you’re interested, here is an excellent report from the Random House of Canada blog Hazlitt. (My thanks to my friend Lindi Pierce for drawing that article to my attention. Lindi, the mastermind behind the wonderful Ancestral Roofs blog on Ontario architecture and heritage, has also started a blog called In Search of Al Purdy – Lindi being a native of Prince Edward County and a literary sort, she has been a big supporter of the A-frame project.) And if you’re interested in learning more about the A-frame project and donating to it, you can do that here.

It’s kind of fun to rub shoulders with a large roomful of literary folk; it’s not something we do all that often. I liked the fact that a lot of them (though not all, by any means) were pleasantly rumpled. “Rumpled” is my kind of people. And I’m pretty sure that it would have been just the word to describe how Al would have looked, had he been there. Which, come to think of it, he was.

2 thoughts on “A celebration of Al Purdy

  1. Lovely. I’ve been looking forward to hearing your response to the gala. It was great to see the two of you – how often do I run into dear faces ‘from home’ in the city? – among the rumpled (although you did not look rumpled, I hasten to add, but knowing the story of your day and your journey would suggest you may have felt so). I am still tingling …love how Ms. Atwood started with “hi Al”,…he was most certainly present. His voice at the beginning, in that darkened theatre! Three or four generations of poets on stage at the end…there’s hope for poetry! Thanks for following my Al journal. Hugs to you both.

    • Well, Lindi, I certainly wasn’t thinking of you and Denis – such a handsome couple! – as being among the “rumpled” either. But I do so love rumpled – and fully intend to get more so as I get older and start retreating into my books, like Prospero (though not nearly so wise or magical) or something. Yes, to see all those poets, old and young and in between, reciting Say The Names at the end of the Purdy Show – it made one’s spine tingle, didn’t it?

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