Starting from Ameliasburgh: The Collected Prose of Al Purdy


397 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 1-55017-127-5
DDC C814'.54






Edited by Sam Solecki
Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian studies at
Concordia University, Japan Foundation Fellow 1991-92, and the author of
Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home and As Though Life Mattered:
Leo Kennedy’s Story.


The fineness of Al Purdy’s poetry has left his often brilliant, always
honest prose in the shade. Starting from Ameliasburgh quite rightly
restores the balance.

Over the last half-century Purdy (b. 1918) has published some 30 books
of prose and verse—the latest being Naked with Summer in Your Mouth
(1994)—and an autobiography, Reaching for the Beaufort Sea (1993). He
has twice won the Governor General’s Award for poetry.

Divided into three parts, Starting from Ameliasburgh covers travels in
Canada (the longest section), pieces on writing and writers, and reviews
that Purdy wrote “for money or for love.” He remembers faces best.
Travel pieces were written to relive feelings and thoughts.

In the section “The Cartography of Myself,” this much-traveled man
writes of being at home all over Canada. His memory links places to
people to create a personal cartography of feeling and sensibility. He
considers persons lacking in such inner maps to be emotional cripples.

Purdy is comically impatient with bad writing, including his own, but
considers naive self-confidence a valuable quality at the start of a
writer’s career. His essays on other Canadian writers such as Irving
Layton and Leonard Cohen are fresh and penetrating, sometimes harsh but
never mean.

The collection is delightful to read. Everything is grist for the mill
of this homespun philosopher and wordsmith. Tales are lit with
atmospheric effects, humor, and plain good sense. It would be difficult
to find livelier writing—or better company.


Purdy, Al., “Starting from Ameliasburgh: The Collected Prose of Al Purdy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024,