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Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy

Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy

by Al Purdy, Sam Solecki (Editor), Margaret Atwood (Foreword by), Michael Ondaatje (Foreword by)
By the time Al Purdy succumbed to lung cancer at his waterfront home in Sidney BC on April 21, 2000, he was universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest writers Canada has produced. In five decades as a published author he had produced over forty books and received innumerable distinctions, including two Governor General's Awards and the Order of Canada. A hands


By the time Al Purdy succumbed to lung cancer at his waterfront home in Sidney BC on April 21, 2000, he was universally acknowledged to be one of the greatest writers Canada has produced. In five decades as a published author he had produced over forty books and received innumerable distinctions, including two Governor General's Awards and the Order of Canada. A hands-on writer who delighted in co-producing specialty publications and small press titles in addition to his major collections with leading publishers, Purdy left a massive and diverse body of work, much of it long unavailable to the public.

The Collected Poems, edited by Purdy critic Sam Solecki with the full participation of the author, for the first time brings all of Purdy's poetic writings together in one volume, including all his later books, work previously uncollected from earlier periods as well as several excellent new poems he completed in the months before his death. It is, as he said, everything he wished to be remembered for.

Product Details

Harbour Publishing Company, Limited
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6.60(w) x 9.47(h) x 1.91(d)

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Read an Excerpt

This is my last book. Sam Solecki is the editor, and now seems a good time to thank him, for that and many other reasons. And to thank Eurithe for many many reasons. I said to her a moment ago, "What does it feel like to live with someone who writes poems most of his life and yours?"
She said, "To me it feels normal. I can't compare it with anything else. It was a life."

Sure it was a life. But can't I wring even a modest superlative out of her like: "Al, it was wonderful! I loved every minute of it!" Couldn't she lie a little just to make me happy? I tell you, it's maddening to live with a woman who always has to tell the truth, as if it hurts her in the esophagus or eardrum or in her instep to exaggerate just a wee bit. I tell her shut up then, I got this very important document to write, outlining my Philosophy and World View of the Hereafter.

So I'm left alone to talk with a bunch of ghosts, at least people I can't see, potential readers, past readers, people who can't stand my stuff (no, they can't read anyway). But there are a few, I guess. And now I have a subject. I've reached age 80, and I started to write at 13. Now I hafta make an embarrassed confession: I feel the same way Eurithe does: I can't compare our lives with any others. (But I hate women who're always right like that.)

It was a life, she said. And I thought it was a pretty good one. We did what we wanted to do, went where we wanted to go. I wrote the way I liked, and kidded myself some of it was pretty good. We were broke - and I mean nearly penniless - a few times in earlier days. A few times, for god's sake? Nearly always. There were periods when I was so depressed I felt like suicide -: having failed at everything I tried to do. But we pulled out of it, with some difficulty. And those periods I called "The Bad Times" seem to me now something like Triumph. "Don't you think so, dear?"

"They were horrible. You should have committed suicide."
What are ya gonna do with a woman like that?
Anyway, yes, it was a life. I wouldn't have wanted any other.

Al Purdy
Sidney, BC / Ameliasburg, Ontario 1999

Purdy's Last Poem: "Both Her Gates East and West"
Wanderings in Canada in the century before the Millennium . . .

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

Beside the seething Fundy waters my friend sleeps and wrote this message for me
"I'll wait for you in the west
Till your sun comes down for its setting"
That grand summer in Newfoundland when we feasted on wild raspberries bakeapples Screech and salmon walked four miles in the rain
(you blamed me for) to L'Anse aux Meadows where Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine were digging up Leif the Lucky's ruins talked to them an hour while I watched the Viking ship and horned heads leaping ashore reflected in Ingstad's blue eyes
On Baffin Island north of summer and summer comes again with every flower a river where I slept a moment's hour to dream and plucked white blossoms and sent them searching for you from that island of lost memory are the flowers still searching?
Quebec was summer in Montreal
Cùte des Neiges and St. Joseph's with Brother Andre's heart pickled in alcohol where I climbed the steps in winter
"the lame and the halt and the blind"
climbed in summer in search of Brother Andre's miracle and threw away their crutches
On a green island in Ontario
I learned about being human built a house and found the woman and we shall be there forever building a house that is never finished
Camped by the South Saskatchewan all day we listened to voices we heard inside ourselves the river like a blue bracelet where the Metis fought their last battle
Dumont Letendre and old Ouellette their ghosts came to us in sleep as white mist moved over our bodies the river flowed into the sky
In the Alberta prairie badlands camped by the vanished Bearpaw Sea in Dinosaur Provincial Park after the campground closed in fall we wander NO TRESPASSING badlands
- the white light suddenly changes to brown sepia twilight we're 75 million years back in time beasts like bad dreams ramp around us with bodies we can see through transparent in the sepia sun and Canada becomes a very old country the Rocky Mountains fold themselves upward giants rising slowly and we are children again
Through the Crow's Nest mountains at age 17
the freight train a black caterpillar climbing climbing climbing vertebrae chattering up the mountains red coal cinders blackening my face riding the high catwalks riding the empties like bugs like dwarfs like boys pretending they're men halfway high as the mountains go below us valleys bathed in sunlight glowing enchanted valleys and I came to believe we were beloved there beloved in a land fortunate of itself beneath black cinders on our faces we glowed in turn from the soul's well-being while I tried to explain myself to myself the simple earth and sky-searching mountains were things I never could explain
Flying north and following the Mackenzie
River long after the Scots explorer endless forest then endless empty land we seemed to hang between earth and sky then a monster hand with a hundred fingers spreading itself over the river delta and a permafrost town still Canada the Beaufort Sea beyond where the world was blue forever

- comes the millennium into our brief lives

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 you've touched nearly all the parts you've become a certain kind of adult and the ordinary places become endearments that slip into your mind and grow there and you change into what you already are in a country you can wear like an old overcoat
Joseph's coat of many colours

The millennium 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
Joseph's coat turned inside out now indistinguishable from your own innards
- a country that no man may comprehend asking the same questions as in ages past time measurable by the tick-tock of millenniums 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

Meet the Author

Save the Al Purdy A-Frame Campaign
The Canadian League of Poets has declared a
National Al Purdy Day!

Al Purdy was born December 30, 1918, in Wooler, Ontario and died at Sidney, BC, April 21, 2000. Raised in Trenton, Ontario, he lived throughout Canada as he developed his reputation as one of Canada's greatest writers. His collections included two winners of the Governor General's Award, Cariboo Horses (1965) and Collected Poems (1986)
and other classics such as Poems for All the Annettes, In Search of Owen Roblin and Piling Blood. Later in life, he travelled widely with his wife Eurithe and settled in Ameliasburg, Ontario and Sidney, BC. In addition to his thirty-three books of poetry, he published a novel, an autobiography and nine collections of essays and correspondence. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 1983 and the Order of Ontario in 1987. His ashes are buried in Ameliasburg at the end of Purdy Lane.

Sam Solecki is a professor of English at the University of Toronto and a former editor of The Canadian Forum.He is also editor of Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, Starting from Ameliasburgh: The Collected Prose of Al Purdy and Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1996. His most recent books are Ragas of Longing: The Poetry of Michael Ondaatje and The Last Canadian Poet: An Essay on Al Purdy.

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her novels include The Edible Woman, Surfacing, The Handmaid's Tale, Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, Alias Grace and the winner of the Booker Prize, The Blind Assassin. Her work is acclaimed internationally and has been translated into thirty-three languages. She is the recipient of many literary awards and honours from various countries, including Britain, Italy, France, Sweden, and Norway, as well as Canada and the United States. Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

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