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The Last Canadian Poet

The Last Canadian Poet: An Essay on Al Purdy

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 336
  • Book Info
    The Last Canadian Poet
    Book Description:

    The first book-length study of the entire body of Al Purdy?s work and offers a reading of Purdy?s poetry as part of a larger argument about Canadian identity and nationhood.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8159-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-2)
    (pp. 3-44)

    Though at first glance my title may seem polemical, indeed may seem to predict the end of Canadian poetry and, by extension, Canadian literature and perhaps Canada itself, it is not intended to sound quite that apocalyptic note. Its intended valence and resonance are more modest, though I′m assuming that by the end of the book many readers may be uneasy with some of the intimations and connotations surrounding both ′last′ and ′Canada.′ Perhaps a quick way of indicating where this argument is going would be to say that I see it as part of what some have called a...

  6. II The Poetry of Al Purdy

    • [PART II: Introduction]
      (pp. 45-48)

      When Al Purdy began writing poems in the 1930s, the major active Canadian poets were Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, Duncan Campbell Scott, and E.J. Pratt. In retrospect, it′s obvious that none of them could have helped him, even if he had been ready, to develop into a modern poet. On the other hand, both Roberts and Pratt had ambitions to write a national or Canadian poetry and to be the national poet. Each might have been sympathetic to the intention and the stance not only in ′On Canadian Identity′ but also in ′Canada,′ one of Purdy′s first publications in his...

    • 1 Bliss Carman′s Shadow
      (pp. 49-76)

      Either the passage of time or his characteristic reticence has prevented Purdy from dwelling on more than a handful of personal details about his youth. The most detailed and emotionally evocative accounts of what growing up in Wooler and Trenton, Ontario, was like – he was born on 30 December 1918 – are in the first two chapters ofReaching for the Beaufort Seaand in his novelA Splinter in the Heart. Both offer sketches of postwar small-town Ontario, a world not unlike the one described in greater detail in Robertson Davies′sFifth Business. Purdy′s grandfather, as one would...

    • 2 D.H. Lawrence in North America
      (pp. 77-96)

      In the preface toThe Collected Poems, Purdy names only two poets as ′important influences, D.H. Lawrence and Irving Layton ... as examples, not tutors′ (xviii). I′m not sure what force the slightly defensive distinction has for Purdy, but I suspect that he wants to emphasize that in confronting Lawrence and Layton he managed to avoid imitating them and, thus, to find his own voice through his reading of their poetry. By calling them ′tutors′ as well as ′influences′ he is able simultaneously to indicate indebtedness as well as freedom, the tradition and the individual talent. The importance of his...

    • 3 The Limits of Lyric
      (pp. 97-125)

      Although I have emphasized to this point some of the features of Purdy′s lyrics linking them to the conservative line in poetry, there is no doubt that the predominant influences on ′the Purdy poem′ have been those originating with the poets who broke with that line, among whom Lawrence is the most prominent. And while Purdy isn′t as radical in his poetics as his master, aspects of the grammar and rhetoric of his lyrics regularly show a poet stretching the thematic and formal limits of lyric towards a more open poetry that doesn′t simply present itself as ′the result of...

    • 4 Poetry and the Poet
      (pp. 126-143)

      I suggested in the previous section that Purdy′s poems attempt to make his subjectivity more comprehensive and to escape the inevitable limits of the subject by incorporating in it other voices, viewpoints, dictions, idioms, and modes of being. In part, this may reflect a dissatisfaction with the limits of lyric itself – what Davie calls ′the insufficiency of lyric′ for certain poets – and a desire to write lyrics capable of incorporating a speaker′s various moods and aspects, more than one voice and time, and any subject-matter interesting to the poet. This desire to be ′two men if I have...

    • 5 Starting from Ameliasburg: Old Rid, Owen Roblin, and Al
      (pp. 144-157)

      For someone who has travelled compulsively and widely and whose poems are set in places as different as Hiroshima and the Galapagos Islands, Purdy has nevertheless remained very much a poet of beginnings and origins. Few bodies of poetry in this century have as felt a sense of place as his. His small-town Ontario background is well known from interviews, poems, the novelA Splinter in the Heart(1990), and the autobiographyReaching for the Beaufort Sea(1993). He may refer periodically with disparagement to Trenton and Belleville, but there is a counterbalancing local pride in poems dealing with the...

    • 6 History and Nation
      (pp. 158-188)

      The poems dealing with Canadian places and Canadian history are also written against the attitude common since the nineteenth century that, because Canada has no world-historical figures and hasn′t been the setting for world-historical events, it has no significant history. It′s a sobering reminder that for most of humanity, 1867 is remembered as the year in which Marx published the first volume ofDas Kapital. Frank Scott′s disappointed response to Quebec in the 19205, after a stay at Oxford, captures the sense of living on the margins. ′Coming back from Oxford, where for the first time in my life I...

    • 7 Origins and Being
      (pp. 189-214)

      Though he shows some interest in evolutionary and prehistorical origins in the poems of the 1950s and 1960s (′Barriers′ [PS, 9], ′Twin Heads′ [BB, 2]), and though death is a concern – more as a poetic convention, however, than a reality – even inThe Enchanted Echo, Purdy has written the majority of his more reflective and philosophical poems about origins and dying in the past fifteen years. As a group, these poems represent a significant and to some degree unexpected development in his work, a shift from a predominantly descriptive to a reflective mode of poetry. It′s as if...

    • 8 Conclusion: The Future of the Past
      (pp. 215-218)

      The present is not always the future that the past had in mind. However prescient or open-minded our best and worst writers may have been about the future of a country they often called the Dominion of Canada, none, while they were doing their portion of nation building, could possibly have anticipated the contemporary nation: a country that, on the one hand, has been described for several years running by the United Nations as the best place to live in the world and, on the other, is constantly calling its existence into question and even seems perpetually on the verge...

  7. APPENDIX. Annotating the Poems of Al Purdy: Quotation, Allusion, Echo, and (Some) References
    (pp. 219-266)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 267-290)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-304)
  10. Index
    (pp. 305-316)