Al Purdy, Poet
Alfred Wellington Purdy, OC, O.Ont (December 30, 1918 – April 21, 2000) was one of the most popular and important Canadian poets of the 20th century. Purdy's writing career spanned more than fifty years. His works include over thirty books of poetry; a novel; two volumes of memoirs and four books of correspondence. He has been called the nation's "unofficial poet laureate", and, "a national poet in a way that you only find occasionally in the life of a culture."
Born in Wooler, Ontario Purdy went to Albert College in Belleville, Ontario, and Trenton Collegiate Institute in Trenton, Ontario. He dropped out of school at 17 and rode the rails west to Vancouver. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. Following the war, he worked in various jobs until the 1960s, when he was able to support himself as a writer, editor and poet.
In the late 1950s, Purdy moved to Roblin Lake in Ameliasburg, Ontario, (South of Trenton in Prince Edward County) and this became his preferred location for writing. In his later years, he divided his time between North Saanich, British Columbia, and his cottage at Roblin Lake.
In addition to his poems and novel, Purdy's work includes two volumes of memoirs, the most recent of which was Reaching for the Beaufort Sea. He also wrote four books of correspondence, including Margaret Laurence - Al Purdy: A Friendship in Letters and radio and television plays for the CBC. He was writer-in-residence at several Canadian universities, and edited a number of anthologies of poetry.
He wrote the introduction to the last book of poetry by his friend Milton Acorn, The Whiskey Jack. Purdy was also a long-time friend of American author Charles Bukowski. Bukowski once said: "I don't know of any good living poets. But there's this tough son of a bitch up in Canada that works the line."
Al Purdy died in North Saanich, B.C., on April 21, 2000. His final collection of poetry, Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, was released posthumously in the fall of 2000.
A grass-roots movement to preserve Purdy's house in Ameliasburgh has been organized by Jean Baird (wife of poet George Bowering) and Purdy's publisher Howard White of Harbour Publishing, who together founded the A-Frame Trust with the intent of raising $1 million to preserve the house as a memorial to Purdy and a writing retreat for other writers.
Awards & Recognition
Honours and awards Purdy has received include the Order of Canada (O.C.) in 1982, the Order of Ontario in 1987, and the Governor General's Award in 1965 for his collection The Cariboo Horses and in 1986 for The Collected Poems of Al Purdy. The League of Canadian Poets gave Purdy the Voice of the Land Award, a special award created by the League to honour his unique contribution to Canada. Purdy's collection of poems, Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets: Selected Poems, 1962–1996, was chosen for inclusion in Canada Reads 2006, where it was championed by poet Susan Musgrave.. On May 20, 2008, a large bronze statue of Purdy was unveiled in Queen's Park in downtown Toronto.
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