Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Monday Mailbag #13

Apologies for the late mailbag entry. Canada Post employees went on a one day wildcat strike over the enforced introduction of non-hallucinatory envelope glue, but it's been rescinded, and resolved with extra days off for transient aphasia.

Dear Tribal Hack:

Al Purdy has often been called Canada's most popular, even most revered, poet. I notice you've said nothing about him in print, to date. Thoughts on the late idol?

-- Joy Carling

Dear Joy:

I quite like some of Purdy's work in 1965's Cariboo Horses. The shagginess is clipped at least a little, and it lent more force to the rhythm (often jarring, rarely musical) of his lines. But even in North Of Summer, only two years later, the offhanded tag-ons begin to accumulate, and he begins to lose me. Later Purdy I find abysmal.

But here's one of the funniest CanPo one-pagers I've read, Purdy's tribute to Ralph Gustafson during a poetic ambassadorial trip with the latter to the former Soviet Union. It's from his The Stone Bird, published in 1981:


Ralph. His poems opposite. To him.
At least the form. Gnomic?
Simple beliefs? Tough beliefs
-- tough to retain and nurture.
"Believe in nothing and poems." Not true.
"A gentle man," says Mark Pinchevsky.
Belief is gentle too. Sentimental?
Oh sometimes. If flowers and music are.
If love is. Love also is comic.
Is bone and blood. Is falling feather.
Useless? Well, subjective. Unstatistic.
Flowers and music. Chronicler of tag ends.
Notary of the unnoticed. Registrar of colour.
Wisdom? What's that? Who knows one?
Monk-scribble on sheep stomachs? Faith in blue
sky, goodness, cliches like banners:
our battered coffeepot brewing tea
in Sovietskaya Hotel, in Samarcand, Riga:
Betty in faded dressing gown fetching it:
he glances, absent, "Oh -- thank you."

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