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Saturday, 9 April 2011

National Al Purdy Day: April 21st/"picnic with Al" poem/notes & babblings

A couple of years ago The League of Candian Poets established April 21st as National Al Purdy Day.
Purdy, "the Voice of the Land", died on April 21, 2000 at age 82. If you don't know big Al's poetic story and legacy, you probably shouldn't be reading this blog.

I moved to north Hastings Couny exactly 22 years ago - and Purdy and his poetry, esp. his classic poem, The Country North of Belleville, had much to do with my desire to move to this wild and redneck rural area of Ontario.  

For the past two years I've celebrated National Al Purdy Day with small groups of friends. In 2009 a group of Marmora area poets gathered on the covered bridge beside the Crowe River and took turns reading Purdy poems to each other. Last year both Doctor Johns and I drove to the little conservation area in Ameliasburgh where Big Al is buried, and celebrated his day with teacher Michelle L-M's high skool students. Gentle readers, I suggest you do the same. If there isn't a commemoration near you, perhaps just sit in a quiet park or corner of your yard and read some of Purdy's many classic poems.

Following is my tribute to Big Al. It's all true, based on events at the first Purdy Country LitFest (PurdyFest) held in 2007.

Picnic  with  Al

Al, you tough brilliant old bastard
you’ve been dead for what,
6    7 years now?
And yet your spirit still soars thru
this godforsaken country north of Belleville
permeating the equally godforsaken Canadian poetry scene

We, your people’s poetry progeny
miss you and Uncle Milt so much
we’ve organized a festival with your name all that’s necessary
to announce our intentions

Now the formal parts of the festival are over
It’s time for beer and finger food and
real poetry in the graveyard where your
spirit keeps company with failed Loyalist ancestors

Today you’ve got us to lift your spirits
one crazy old hippie poet (me)
is ringing a Buddhist temple bell
reminding you not to be late for the feast
of poets reading your poetry
all beer sodden, chicken smeared
and better for it

This early August day in A-burgh’s settler cemetery is perfect
sunny, the wind coming up as the bell chimes
its invocation: animals may appear I intone
& sure enough, a second turtle pops onto the log
from the millpond’s cool depths

I remember the wake in Belleville
in the posh private school dining hall
more Hogwartz than the owners realized
Halfway through the turgid readings
you flew from the rafters
in the form of a bat
swooping among your guests
and all recognized your spirit
with authentic laughs

Melanie reads your poem “The Buddhist Bell”
after the goofy invocation
and as our vision clears
we see the turtles smile
as Jeff Seffinga appropriately reads “At The Quinte Hotel”
all of us joining to chorus “for I am a sensitive man!”

James Deahl lounges on your tombstone
carved in the shape of an open poetry book
his arm is draped as if over your shoulder
while he props on this convenient lectern
reading your words of drunken wisdom

Suddenly rude crows caw above the pond
Uncle Milty with his raven clan
clangour their guttural approval
People’s Poetry is alive and well
laughing from beyond the grave
mingling pitch perfect with Jim’s voice

Chris Faiers

Dedicated to James (Jim) Deahl
About the Aug. 6/07 picnic celebration in Ameliasburgh by Al Purdy’s grave

published in ZenRiver: Poems & Haibun (2008)

And Left a PLace to Stand On: Poems and Essays on Al Purdy (2009)

both collections published by Hidden Brook Press
special thanks to publisher Richard 'Tai' Grove

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