Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1996

Overview

A selection of poems by the man described by the Globe & Mail as "the greatest of our poets." Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets includes three decades' worth of thought-provoking work, including poems from the Governor-General's Award-winning The Cariboo Horses to Naked with Summer in Your Mouth.

Purdy personally made this selection, assisted by Sam Solecki, the editor of Starting from Ameliasburgh: The Collected Prose of Al Purdy. In these poems, Purdy ponders the remains...

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Overview

A selection of poems by the man described by the Globe & Mail as "the greatest of our poets." Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets includes three decades' worth of thought-provoking work, including poems from the Governor-General's Award-winning The Cariboo Horses to Naked with Summer in Your Mouth.

Purdy personally made this selection, assisted by Sam Solecki, the editor of Starting from Ameliasburgh: The Collected Prose of Al Purdy. In these poems, Purdy ponders the remains of a Native village; encounters Fidel Castro in Revolutionary Square; curses a noisy cellmate in the drunk tank; and marvels at the "combination of ballet and murder" known as hockey, all in the author's inimitable man-on-the-street style.

Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets is destined to become the standard Purdy poetry volume for many years to come.

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Editorial Reviews

Finalist for CBC Radio's Canada Reads 2006
For the first time in its five-year history, Canada Reads, the CBC Radio program that encourages Canadians to join together each year in the reading of a single book, has shortlisted a book of poems. The book is Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets, a selection of best hits by the man often called Canada's greatest poet, the late Al Purdy.

Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets was nominated by the poet and novelist Susan Musgrave, who will defend her choice in head-to-head debate with champions of four competing titles in a marathon debate next April. Leading up to the great debate, the CBC network will undertake intensive promotion of all five shortlisted books, including biographical sketches of the authors and readings from the works. Purdy will also be the subject of a one-hour film on CBC television starring Gordon Pinsent. In past years Canada Reads has been highly successful at promoting awareness of selected titles, increasing sales by up to 35,000 copies.

Howard White of Harbour Publishing considers the selection of Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets "an inspired choice," calling Purdy "Canada's poet."
"Anybody can read him, and have a ball doing it," says White. "I can't think of a book that would do all Canadians more good to sit down and read at this point in our history. It might save us yet. It's just too bad Al isn't here to see this happen. He would have been over the moon and probably would have written a poem to celebrate."

Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets comprises three decades' worth of Purdy's finest work, including poems from the Governor-General's Award-winning The Cariboo Horses to Naked with Summer in Your Mouth. Purdy made the selection himself, assisted by Professor Sam Solecki, his biographer and editor of Yours, Al: The Collected Letters of Al Purdy. In these poems, Purdy ponders the remains of a Native village; encounters Fidel Castro in Revolutionary Square; curses a noisy cellmate in the drunk tank; and marvels at the "combination of ballet and murder" known as hockey, all in the author's inimitable man-on-the-street style.

Al Purdy was born December 30, 1918, in Wooler, Ontario and died in Sidney, BC, April 21, 2000. Raised in Trenton, Ontario, he spent his life criss-crossing the nation as he developed his reputation as one of Canada's greatest writers. He twice won Canada's most prestigious poetry prize, the Governor General's Award, first for Cariboo Horses (1965) and then for Collected Poems (1986). Later in life he travelled widely with his wife Eurithe while alternating their permanent residence between Ameliasburg, Ontario and Sidney, BC. In addition to thirty-three books of poetry, Purdy wrote 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.

The four other books on the Canada Reads shortlist are Deafening by Frances Itani (HarperCollins 2003), Cocksure by Mordecai Richler (McClelland & Stewart 1968), Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (Penguin 2005) and A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Vintage, Random House 2004). In April 2006, all five panellists will engage in a five-day "battle of the books" and each day, one book will be voted off the list until only the winner remains.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781550171488
  • Publisher: Harbour Publishing Company, Limited
  • Publication date: 1/1/1996
  • Pages: 152
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

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.

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.

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Read an Excerpt

TRANSIENT

Riding the boxcars out of Winnipeg in a morning after rain so close to the violent sway of fields it's like running and running naked with summer in your mouth and the guy behind you grunts and says
"Got a smoke?"

Being a boy scarcely a moment and you hear the rumbling iron roadbed singing under the wheels at night and a door jerking open mile after dusty mile riding into Regina with the dust storm crowding behind you and a guy you hardly even spoke to nudges your shoulder chummily and says
"Got a smoke?"

Riding into the Crow's Nest mountains with your first beard itching and a hundred hungry guys fanning out thru the shabby whistlestops for handouts and not even a sandwich for two hundred miles only the high mountains and knowing what it's like to be not quite a child any more and listening to the tough men talk of women and talk of the way things are in 1937

Riding down in the spit-grey sea-level morning thru dockyard streets and dingy dowager houses with ocean a jump away and the sky beneath you in puddles on Water Street and an old Indian woman pushing her yawning scratching daughter onto a balcony to yell at the boy-man passing
"Want some fun? - come on up" - and the girl just come from riding the shrieking bedspring bronco all the up and down night to a hitchpost morning full of mother and dirt and lice and hardly the place for a princess of the Coast Salish
(My dove my little one tonight there will be wine and drunken suitors from the logging camps to pin you down in the outlying lands of sleep where all roads lead back to the home-village and water may be walked on)

Stand in the swaying boxcar doorway moving east away from the sunset and after a while the eyes digest a country and the belly perceives a mapmaker's vision in dust and dirt on the face and hands here its smell drawn deep thru the nostrils down to the lungs and spurts thru blood stream campaigns in the lower intestine and chants love songs to the kidneys

After a while there is no arrival and no departure possible any more you are where you were always going and the shape of home is under your fingernails the borders of yourself grown into certainty the identity of forests that were always nameless the selfhood of rivers that are changing always the nationality of riding freight trains thru the depression over long green plains and high mountain country with the best and worst of a love that's not to be spoken and a guy right behind you says then
"Got a smoke?"

You give him one and stand in the boxcar doorway or looking out the window of a Montreal apartment or running the machines in a Vancouver factory you stand there growing older

NECROPSY OF LOVE

If it came about you died it might be said I loved you:
love is an absolute as death is,
and neither bears false witness to the other --
But you remain alive.

No, I do not love you hate the word,
that private tyranny inside a public sound,
your freedom's yours and not my own:
but hold my separate madness like a sword,
and plunge it in your body all night long.

If death shall strip our bones of all but bones,
then here's the flesh and flesh that's drunken-sweet as wine cups in deceptive lunar light:
reach up your hand and turn the moonlight off,
and maybe it was never there at all,
so never promise anything to me:
but reach across the darkness with your hand,
reach across the distance of tonight,
and touch the moving moment once again before you fall asleep --

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Table of Contents

The Dead Poet (from The Stone Bird, 1981)
Poems for All the Annettes (1962)
Spring Song
Remains of an Indian Village
At the Quinte Hotel
House Guest
The Cariboo Horses (1965)
The Cariboo Horses
Song of the Impermanent Husband
Necropsy of Love
Hockey Players
Home-Made Beer
One Rural Winter
Winter at Roblin Lake
Roblin's Mills
The Country North of Belleville
Fidel Castro in Revolutionary Square
Transient
North of Summer (1967)
Trees at the Arctic Circle
Arctic Rhododendrons
Still Life in a Tent
When I Sat Down to Play the Piano
What Do the Birds Think?
The Country of the Young
Dead Seal
Wild Grape Wine (1968)
The Winemaker's Beat-Étude
Hombre
Watching Trains
Dark Landscape
The Drunk Tank
Sergeant Jackson
Roblin's Mills (2)
About Being a Member of Our Armed Forces
Lament for the Dorsets
Wildemess Gothie
The Runners
Over the Hills in the Rain, My Dear
Detail
Love in a Burning Building (1970)
Married Mans Song
Sex and Death (1973)
Dead March for Sergeant MacLeod
The Horseman of Agawa
The Beavers of Renfrew
For Robert Kennedy
Sundance at Dusk (1976)
The Hunting Camp
Pre-School
Alive or Not Inside the Mill
A Handful of Earth (1977)
The Death Mask
A Handful of Earth
Prince Edward County
The Stone Bird (1981)
Journey to the Sea
May 23, 1980
Red Fox on Highway 500
Shot Glass Made From a Bull's Hom
Bestiary
In the Garden
Moonspell
Birdwatching at the Equator
Piling Blood (1984)
Piling Blood
In the Beginning was the Word
Adam and No Eve
In the Early Cretaceous
Museum Piece
Voltaire
Collected Poems (1986)
Elegy for a Grandfather
The Smell of Rotten. Eggs
The Woman on the Shore (1990)
The Prison Lines at Leningrad
Quetzal Birds
The Others
In the Desert
On the Flood Plain
Seasons
Naked with Summer in Your Mouth (1994)
Glacier Spell
Procne into Robin
On Being Human
Afterword

AFTERWORD BY AL PURDY
[Once, on Baffin Island,] I was curled up in a sleeping bag, feeling lost at the world's edge, bereft of family and friends. As the tide went out, icebergs were left stranded on the beach. With the water's support removed, they collapsed on themselves with a crash whose echoes kept repeating themselves. A dog would howl, and others join in, a bedlam chorus. Old Squaw ducks moaned about how awful life was, an OUW-OUW-OUW dirge for the living. And all these sounds repeated themselves, as if some mad god were howling from distant mountains.

Somewhere in my head a poem began. One of the lines was about those ducks, the loneliness and defeat the birds signified: "I think, to the other side of that sound": I think to a place where uncertainty and loneliness are ended, to a happier time. But, I say to myself now, think again: I was never really happier than when I was lying in a sleeping bag on an Arctic island, listening to those noisy ducks at the top of the world and writing a poem. ("To See the Shore: A Preface," The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, p. xvi [ 1986])

Poetry. What is it for, what does it do, what is the use of it? In Canada, poetry reflects and foreshadows both country and people. It is the voice of reason, the voice of humanity, the voice that says "I am me." It allows us to know each other; like the CBC, it connects with all parts of the country. It says the little village of Ameliasburgh in Ontario has some relevance to, say, Granville Ferry in Nova Scotia. Above all, poetry says you are us and we are citizens of here and now, this space, this air, and this time. ("Disconnections," Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 49 [Summer 1993], p. 187)

I started to write at age twelve or thirteen, partly through interest in other people's writing (Bliss Carman, Robert Louis Stevenson, G.K. Chesterton, for example), but probably the largest reason was my own ego. I wanted attention. I think that is the principal reason for many youthful activities. ("Disconnections," Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 49 [Summer 1993], p. 213)

One question about poems has always puzzled me: why do I write them? At first the reason was sheer ego, I wanted attention . . . But that original reason for writing has been succeeded by others, among them a raging desire for some kind of personal excellence, whose validity would endure against time. And yet that is a paradox, since I think a poem's validity belongs, principally, to its own particular moment of creation. Therefore, all are a series of moments emerging from their own time. At least they emerge as their own kind of truth, if the impulses that created them were valid in the first place. (A Handful of Earth, p. [8] 119771)

As a writer, I've always felt like an eternal amateur. Even after writing poems all my life, I'm never entirely confident that the next poem will find its way into being. And then I find myself writing one, without knowing exactly how I got there. ("To See the Shore: A Preface," The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, p. xviii [ 19861)

To my mind, what a poem ought to do is cause the reader to feel and think, balanced on nearly the same moment as myself when I wrote it. And I'd prefer to be understood with a minimum of mental strain by people as intelligent or more so than myself. I'd like them to hear the poem aloud when they read it on the page, which some people can do with poems they like.

Ideally, I'd like to say a thing so well that if the reader encounters a passage in a poem of mine which has much the same rhythm and ordinariness as this prose passage he or she is reading now: that that passage would suddenly glow like coloured glass in a black and white world. Which is probably a hopeless ambition. (Bursting into Song, p. 11 [1982])

[Poems] are my umbilical cord with the world and with other people, a two-way cord. They connect with sources I'm not even aware of, and if I were the poems would be impossible. What was it Yeats said about poems being "a quarrel with one's self"? Probably true, with inner arguments resolved or not in poems. (A Handful of Earth, p. [81 [1977])

[In my love poems] it isn't just the euphoric dreams of lovers I want to evoke, it's the ridiculosity inherent in the whole comic disease. And the mordant happiness of despair as well. Pain and its red blot in the brain, sorrow that things end, fade into little rags of memory that haunt us in their absence. (How wonderful to be made of stone and endure forever! Except, in some mysterious way, that which has existed truly once does last forever.) ("On Being Romantic," Love in a Burning Building, p. [10] [1970])

Well, what does the reader want from a poem? ... Primarily, I suppose, to be entertained. And that involves tuning in on some emotion or feeling or discovery that is larger and more permanent than he is. Some flashing insight that adds a new perspective to living. Values also. And that is a great deal. Most of the time it's asking far too much. ("Leonard Cohen: A Personal Look," Starting from Ameliasburgh, p. 197 [1965, 19951)

Re intent, I prefer Earle Birney's opinion ... that whatever meaning or levels of meaning the reader "extracts" from the work, this meaning is legitimate and valid. Because (my own comment as well as Birney's) there is something in a writer's head which causes him or her to incorporate meanings and possible interpretations he (or she) doesn't even know are there. ("Margaret Atwood's The Journals of Susanna Moodie," Starting from Ameliasburgh, pp. 239-40 [ 1971, 1995])

Rhyme and metre are not outdated, and I'm sure Pound must have suspected that. Both have lasted a thousand years, and will last many more .... I quite often use rhyme myself, and metre as well, trying to vary and conceal it within poems where it isn't expected and seems accidental if you do notice it. But I generally let a poem go where it seems to want to go, then touch it here and there deliberately, add metre say, or remove metre, add or remove a rhyme if too close to another rhyme. Perhaps it's not quite as artless as you seem to think? (Letter to George Johnston, 10 Aug. 1980)

Your mention of the "circular route" is also appropriate, since many poems I write are circular, that is coming back to some remark at the beginning in order to - not become self-contained - do what? I don't always. know without looking at a particular poem: perhaps because our own lives seem to me circular in many ways, in that we never escape our own past and are always affected by it, and a poem's past is our own in minuscule. (Letter to George Galt, 25 Dec. 1978)

I dislike the strong implication that to employ natural speech idioms is the best or only way to write poetry. There seem to me to be a million ways to write a poem. To exclude any of them is to make academic strictures on what poems are and should be. ("Charles Bukowski's It Catches My Heart in its Hands," Starting from Ameliasburgh, p. 190 [1964, 19951)

I snapped out of that lost soul condition in the air force during the war years; and found new prosodic mentors in Vancouver in 1950. Dylan Thomas, of course, was the foremost of these.

I learned much from Layton in Montreal during my stint there in 1956 and later. And then I think I was overwhelmed by my own discoveries of new writers. It was wonderful to roll and tumble in the loose and magnificent rhythms of Yeats, the stem and sometimes puzzling disciplines of Auden, and most of all to be fascinated and enthralled by Lawrence. I don't say Lawrence is the best of those three, but he's the writer I learned most from, and whose own life was equally fascinating to me. (Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, pp. 286-7 [1993])

Lawrence learned much from Walt Whitman, and I can see how and why he could do so. Yet Whitman's work seems to me nearly mindless cliche by comparison to Lawrence's, despite Randall Jarrell's panegyric. (I want to like a poet because of his or her effect on me now, not for past influence on poetry in general.) Lawrence was drawn by Whitman's tone, his openness of line, his running on and on wherever thought would take him. Whitman refused to be dictated to by other men's thinking, by traditions of prosody, by the pretentious notion that if one was writing a poem one must say what a poem was supposed to say, must scan and rhyme.

Lawrence knew that a poem could say anything. The Is and Ts could dance together on paper, the As and Ls could fly to the moon without wings. Words anchored his thought to paper so that the mind became corporeal and yet weightless. So that he wrote his life in his poems, and toward the end of his life he wrote his death. When a poet - myself in this case - is influenced enough by Lawrence, then he escapes all influence, including Lawrence. After DHL, all other influences merge seamlessly into your own work. You learn still, you always learn, but never again are you under a slavish obligation to another writer. ("Disconnections," Essays on Canadian Writing, No. 49, [Summer 19931 p. 216.)

In my lifetime, there have been many other writers whose work I've admired and absorbed. They are constantly nudging me somewhere in my unconscious mind. If I had to name two of the most important influences, D.H. Lawrence and Irving Layton would qualify. As examples, not tutors. And perhaps Milton Acorn gets in there somewhere as well; I learned from him both how to write and how not to write. (Very few people can teach you opposite things at the same time.) I think I've learned from everyone I've read, on some level, though I've digested their writing in ways that make it impossible for me to recognize it in my own work. All of us who write are indebted to everyone else who writes for our enthusiasms and craft (or sullen art). ("To See the Shore: A Preface," The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, p. xviii 119 86])

Northrop Frye's dictum that poems are created from poems seems to me partially true, in the sense that if other people's poems hadn't been written you couldn't have written your own. In that sense, what each of us writes balances and juggles the whole history of literature, and we are for that moment "the midland navel-stone" of earth. (A Handful of Earth, p. [81 [1977])

... you always choose and place poems [in a book] in such a way that they set each other off to advantage, opposites in mood or subject together or likes together. At least you hope they set each other off to advantage. (Bursting into Song, p. 10 [1982])

I read reviews to find out what's wrong with my writing; I read them for flattery and for truth, two opposite things. I regard myself as an odd kind of mainstream poet, and much closer to the style of mainstream American writers than British. And "mainstream" may be regarded here, in my case, as eccentric-conventional . . . Paradoxically, while I write more like Canadian and US poets in style and diction, I like the slightly older British poets much better than the American ones. (Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, p. 283 [1993])

Travelling has almost been a way of life for this poet, especially in the last few years. Strange landscapes and foreign climes have produced a feeling of renewal, the earth itself has given me a sense of history, the stimulus of the original events carrying over in time and entering my own brain. ("To See the Shore: A Preface," The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, p. xv [1986])

And as a passing comment, there are few things I find more irritating about my own country than this so-called "search for an identity," an identity which I've never doubted having in the first place.

The environment, the land, the people, and the flux of history have made us what we are; these have existed since Canada's beginning, along with a capacity for slow evolvement into something else that goes on and on. And perhaps I would also include pride. Their total is all that any nation may possess. I think it is enough. ("Introduction," The New Romans, p. iii [1969])

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