Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Fraser Sutherland
Dear Editor,

I would have accepted Evan Jones's invitation "to stand up for Al Purdy" ["Letters," September 2008], except that I don't have to: Purdy was a tall man and an XL talent. Since he was also a friend and colleague, I would like to correct three errors in Jones's letter: two factual, one conceptual.

In Toronto, Purdy's memorial statue was erected in Queen's Park, not at City Hall. He was not a native of Toronto, but of the small town of Wooler, Ontario. The allegation that his "most noteworthy poems are about being drunk in bars, and at best he's part of a certain caliber of anti-intellectual, free verse poet whose fashion seemed perhaps relevant and necessary in the seventies, but whom few have time for any longer" is pure nonsense.

Purdy was, and is, relevant. He had no time for pompous academics, and if contemporary poets don't have time for him it's to their distinct disadvantage. Purdy made beer and wild-grape wine and he did indeed drink a lot of it, though he usually drank in taverns, not bars. But his bibulousness was, like that of his friend and correspondent Charles Bukowski, a public pose, occasionally tried on for comic effect in poems. Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, edited by Sam Solecki, runs to 608 pages, and very few of them owe anything to the Alcoholic Muse.

Purdy's shambling, slurring, country-bumpkin persona was as much a put-on as Robert Frost's faux-naïf ruralism. Self-educated, he was immensely well-read, and his work overarchingly alludes to vast tracts of history, prehistory, mythology, geology, and biology. They were all subjects of sober interest to his rueful, restless, and speculative intelligence.

Toronto, Ontario

Originally Published: October 24, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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