Long known to insiders as one of the most unique personalities in Canadian letters, the celebrated poet Al Purdy begins this story of his life by noting that just as he was about to be born his hometown of Trenton was flattened by a historic explosion as the local munitions factory, "no doubt accounting for any oddity and eccentricity in my character." By the time the readers realize just how much there is to account for, they may be forgiven for wondering if the Trenton Blast was big enough to do the job.
Reaching for the Beaufort Sea is one of the most engaging and revealing autobiographies ever undertaken by a leading Canadian author. Writing in a relaxed, conversational style with ribald humour never far below the surface, Purdy shows himself no mercy as he exposes what surely must be one of the most unlikely literary apprenticeships ever served. He is equally merciless when it comes to providing uncensored glimpses of writers like Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, F.R. Scott, Earle Birney, Louis Dudek, Irving Layton, Hugh MacLennan, Leonard Cohen, and John Newlove, who worked, loved and brawled alongside Purdy during Canadian literature's coming of age.
Gossipy and lighthearted as it is at times, Reaching for the Beaufort Sea nevertheless makes an important contribution to the understanding of modern Canadian letters, and is essential reading for anyone hoping to appreciate fully a writer Dennis Lee has called "one of the substantial poets in English of the century."