About the Author

Sam Solecki

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.

Books by this Author
Prague Blues

Prague Blues

The Fiction of Josef Skvorecky
also available: Hardcover
tagged : canadian
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Ragas of Longing

Ragas of Longing

The Poetry of Michael Ondaatje
also available: Paperback Hardcover
tagged : poetry, canadian
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The Last Canadian Poet

The Last Canadian Poet

An Essay on Al Purdy
also available: eBook Paperback
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Beyond Remembering

Beyond Remembering

The Collected Poems of Al Purdy
by Al Purdy
edited by Sam Solecki
foreword by Margaret Atwood
tagged : canadian
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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

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One Muddy Hand

One Muddy Hand

Selected Poems
tagged : canadian
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Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets

Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets

Selected Poems 1962-1996
afterword by Al Purdy
edited by Sam Solecki
tagged : canadian
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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 --

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Yours, Al

Yours, Al

The Collected Letters of Al Purdy
by Al Purdy
edited by Sam Solecki
tagged : letters, canadian
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