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Poetry Canadian

Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets

Selected Poems 1962-1996

afterword by Al Purdy

edited by Sam Solecki

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Jan 1996
Canadian, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 1996
    List Price

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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.

About the authors


Al Purdy’s down-to-earth voice populates thirty-three books, including The Cariboo Horses (1965), North of Summer (1967), Sex & Death (1973), and Piling Blood (1984). The two major collections of his work are The Collected Poems of Al Purdy (1986) and Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy (2000). Purdy died in Sidney, BC, on April 21, 2000.

Robert Budde teaches creative writing and critical theory at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George. He has published four books (two poetry—Catch as Catch and traffick, and two novels—Misshapen and, most recently, The Dying Poem). He maintains two online literary journals at and .

Russell Morton Brown is a professor in the department of English at the University of Toronto. An editor for the University of Toronto Quarterly, the editor of The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, and co-editor with Donna Bennett of the New Anthology of Canadian Literature in English, he was also Editorial Director of Poetry at McClelland and Stewart for five years.


Al Purdy's profile page

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.

Sam Solecki's profile page


  • Short-listed, Finalist for CBC Radio's Canada Reads

Excerpt: Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems 1962-1996 (afterword by Al Purdy; edited by Sam Solecki)


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


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 --

Editorial Reviews

Finalist for CBC Radio's Canada Reads 2006

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