Al Purdy: Essays on His Works


165 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55071-162-8
DDC C811'.54





Edited by Linda Rogers
Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


The three longest articles here are of high quality. Dennis Lee’s
“The Poetry of Al Purdy” (originally published in his Body Music)
may well be the best available discussion of his work. Stan Dragland’s
“Al Purdy’s Poetry: Openings” (which first appeared in his The
Bees of the Invisible—not “at the Invisible,” as the somewhat
slapdash editing claims) is a deeply personal and sensitive response
that runs it a close second. Sam Solecki’s “Al Purdy Among the
Poets” (for the most part hitherto unpublished), a more traditional
scholarly article that tackles the tricky question of influence with
admirable knowledge and tact, provides a model of how Purdy can be
discussed seriously but not stuffily.

Focusing (despite the title) on the man rather than his works, the
other contributions are, to put it brutally, expendable. (Yes, I realize
that those I have praised are all by male critics, while all but one of
the other writers are female, but the truth must be faced.) They are
anecdotal, slick, chatty, their judgments all too predictable,
suggesting an admiration society rather than a serious critical
symposium. All seem more interested in upholding what is now a somewhat
hoary myth than fostering genuine art.

Purdy was the dominating Canadian poet for a generation. He wrote some
of the most powerful poetry of his time, yet even a cursory examination
of his collected poems reveals a hit-or-miss sensibility that, when
off-form, could produce reams of slack verse. But one gets the
impression here that every beery effusion was a masterpiece; even the
three serious essays (apart from admitting the well-known banality of
his early efforts) offer only a few hints about the unevenness of his
work. Those who consult this book would be well advised, for balance, to
turn to David Solway’s astringent but persuasive essay “Standard
Average Canadian,” recently included in his collection Director’s

Statistically, however, 65 percent of the text can be highly
recommended—and that, I suppose, is a high percentage these days.


“Al Purdy: Essays on His Works,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 17, 2024,