CM March 1, 
1996. Vol. II, Number 20

image Starting from Ameliasburgh:
The Collected Prose of Al Purdy.

Al Purdy. Edited by Sam Solecki.
Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 1995. 399pp, cloth, $39.95.
ISBN: 1-55017-127-5.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Joanne Peters.



My first reaction to this book is surprise. In my earliest days, I never expected such a book to be published, and now that it is I still feel surprised. And I don't want to go back in time and read the reviews I wrote long ago; let them stand as they were written. . . . The reasons I wrote reviews in the first place are more interesting to me. Obviously a writer writes. Long ago I was eager to get into print to comment on those authors who interested me, and some in whom I was not very interested. I said some things I thought were necessary to say; I indulged my enthusiasms and strictures; I tried to "call them as I saw them". . . . The travel articles, the other pieces I wrote for money or for love, that's something else. It was wonderful to go to those various other countries and the strange unknown places in my own country, to feel those things and then say them and feel them all over again.

Al Purdy is best known as a poet, but the strength and concreteness of his poetry emerge strongly in this collection of nearly forty years of reviews, essays, travel pieces, and anecdotes.

The book is divided into two parts: Part I, "No Other Country" is a series of essays on Canada and other places, while Part II, "The Writing Life" contains Purdy's interviews with, and reviews or memoirs of other Canadian writers and their work. As the above excerpt suggests, it is in the travel pieces that Purdy's spirit and passion for Canada resonates and brings vitality to his prose. By comparison "The Writing Life," though not bloodless, lacks the same verve. And "Poetry Chronicle, 1958-1990" is most engaging when Purdy talks about fellow writers, their strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncracies.

Starting from Ameliasburgh provides an important window on an aspect of Purdy's career which many of his readers will be largely unaware of. And the essays are often exemplars of strong, concrete writing. But in many ways, it is not a compelling or gripping collection; somehow, the power of Purdy's travel pieces is missing in the literary reviews.

Recommended for libraries with a strong focus on Canadian literature and culture.

Joanne Peters is a Teacher-Librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg.

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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364