I am up early, enjoying a rather cool but sunny summer morning quietly. I go for The Globe and religiously seek out and remove the Book Review section first. I scan this section for key words that catch my eye, pull me in and this determines which of the articles I read first (however, I will eventually read the entire section).
Al Purdy’s name jumps out and I settle in on ‘Shadows and footsteps’ by Alex Boyd. The main point of his article was to read and respect the writing of good authors that have gone before. To paraphrase, read good books, be humble and this will make you a better writer. “Young writers need to be inspired and to admire older writers…meeting them can be a very different experience.” He goes on to recount a meeting he had with Al Purdy in Toronto at the library where Purdy had been giving a reading. After waiting for his turn to speak with the author, Boyd mentions to Purdy with some energy that his poetry was along side some of Purdy’s in Ink Magazine (not very humble I might insert here). The lanky rather complacent Purdy responded with a blunt “Great” ending the conversation and leaving Boyd a bit deflated, and disappointed.
I know a little of what that can feel like having met Al Purdy’s wife (and co-author to a few of his books), Eurithe, earlier this year. It was at an affair for the late Al Purdy where many well known authors and peers of Purdy were speaking. Afterwards, I was looking forward to meeting with Eurithe, who was surrounded by the crowd. I went and got myself another glass of wine while I waited; there was much wine available at this writer’s event, as it should be. Eventually, my opportunity to speak with her came, and I did my best to suppress some childish giddy that was emerging. I also reminded myself that it might not be a good idea to mention that I and a friend had snuck about her property searching for the famous A-frame house they lived in there and attempting to catch a glimpse of the life known to Al Purdy. I am sure some of this energy escaped as I approached and blurted out something in admiration which was met with a quiet “Great” that finished the meeting. I watched in a bit of astonishment as this spry 82 year old woman turned and sprang up the stairs towards the wine and cheese.
I was not, however, disappointed in Eurithe herself, although I may have been a little in me. From what I have read about and by the Purdy’s collectively, they are everything that it is to be humble. Al Purdy himself was met with some harsh criticism in his early days from some great authors like Irving Layton who called Purdy’s early poetry crap of some sort. I am sure Al took that to heart, being a ‘sensitive man’. This humble man and great writer did improve working hard at the craft and surrounding himself with other great writers. He went on to spend a great deal of time with Layton and many others meeting at times at the aforementioned A-frame house.
I guess my point is, if Alex Boyd thinks authors have a role to play, he should come right out and say it. Maybe he is just warning us, reminding readers that we may form our own story about the authors we like, and then come to be disappointed when we meet them in person. I am not too sure. Either way, I do think it is important to read good writers, and I do think that can make you a better writer yourself.
Some wonderful suggestions…
Taxi – Helen Potrebenko (set in Vancouver in the 70’s – this book is a great insight to human nature and culture).
The Blue Hour of the Day - Lorna Crozier (although I also suggest you read everything by this author)
True Stories – Margaret Atwood (provocative cover image depicting a heart that looks like a vagina or vice versa – worth seeking out)
I am off to discover a new to me poet and author Jeanette Lynes from Nova Scotia…
Happy reading and writing.