Beyond Remembering

Listening to Fleetwood Mac’s When I See You Again, as I type.

I wrote away to Amazon for Beyond Remembering: The collected poems of Al Purdy before driving east, the morning of my mother’s birth day,  July 27.  Since then, I’ve been pouring through the poetry and visiting the places that Canada’s poet, Al Purdy, visited and sometimes thought and wrote about.  I heard Eurithe’s strong voice over the telephone, positive and supportive and carried to me all the way from Sidney, British Columbia.  Al’s wife gave me the generous permission to use bits of Al’s poetry in my paintings, all produced in my studio bedroom, generously offered to me by my loving father his summer.

I’m still working on small panels and told myself they would be completed by September 1 and I will hold myself to that and I will rest for September, taking in the new autumn air and visit my brother and sister in Ottawa before I drive west to Calgary.

If you haven’t had a connection with Al Purdy’s writing, do give yourself that opportunity some time, when it’s right.  The summer of 2013 was the right time for me.  I had picked up George Bowering’s book about his friend, Al, his writing…and I became suddenly, profoundly connected…not just with Al Purdy’s writing, but also George Bowering’s writing and more than before, Margaret Atwood’s.  I was excited by Al’s connection to my all-time favourite author, Margaret Laurence, and went in search of correspondences between the two and poems where he wrote about her…even to the point of the description he gave in one of his poems of his writing space and the images of both Gabrielle Roy and Margaret Laurence that hung there, on his wall.

Yes…I became a fan.  George Bowering co-authored a book with Jean Baird, The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning.  Drowning in a dark pool of grief for my mother, all of these beautiful circumstances, all surfacing through poetry, writing and literature, gave me a nudge into my personal journey of grief.  I have to say that tentatively, visually, my relationship with the folk of the Gorilla House (you know who you are) and then the Rumble House in Calgary, also provided a string to my practice.  But, I have to face it, for years, I’ve been broken and not particularly functioning on any level as an artist.  I painted in my head and pulled off these two hour blast outs every Wednesday night.  I was happy to let go of them at auction on the same night because I was suffering too much to want to hold on.

Somehow, I knew that this summer I had to create a segue into my practice of painting.  I had unloaded all of the furniture and other stuff that I had pushed into my studio space, as a physical way of avoiding painting.  I finished projects that were created as a way of distracting me from the fear, the incapacitation and the flat out avoidance of canvas or panel or paint.

And so I find myself here, painting the shape of Purdy’s words, in as much as I can over a period of four weeks.  I am sitting here crying as I type.  Dad isn’t home.  Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks…singing to me through the single speaker.  And…I feel good to be in the act of painting again.  A bit illustrative in nature, I don’t necessarily believe that this is the direction my work is going…but, it is the beginning of the direction and for that, I’m grateful.  It makes sense that I should begin in this beautiful, lush, humid, Victorian city of Belleville, on the edge of the Bay of Quinte…not far from Purdy’s resting place and his little A Frame on Roblin Lake.  I know that when I get home, I already have a ‘shitload’ of content from a pond that I love, that will give me a subject for my winter’s exploration.

I will add the poems, a bit at a time, to this post…I really need to get back to those small panels I mentioned.  After all, it’s the 28th of August.

Mom, I love you.  I love you with all of my heart.   Something about what I’ve painted this summer is about you…home…Canada…experience that is the very most mundane…things in the day-to-day that all too often go unnoticed.   Painting again, with joy…not pain…is home for me.

Thanks to Mary and Pat…two friends back in Calgary, who tentatively asked…and supported my journey of grief as it related to my painting.  Thanks to Pricilla.  You know why.  Thanks to my Dad, who feeds me.

The paintings can be seen, thanks to the generous opportunity given by Lisa Morris and Peter Paylor at Artists and Artisans: Studio and Gallery on Front Street, show beginning on Thursday, September 6, with a bit of a sha-bang on the 11th from 2-4 and with the potential of after hours viewing any time.  I hope some of you can see these.

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From the poem, May 23, 1980 in the collection, Beyond Remembering…the final stanza.

I have grown old

but these words remain

tell her for me

because it’s very important

tell her for me

there will come one May night

of every year that she’s alive

when the whole world smells of lilacs.

Al Purdy

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Thinking About Al Purdy

It’s -16…the sherry has been poured and it is not too early for Christmas oranges.  I sit down to the computer to write the second last post about summer. Dad agreed to take the drive to Ameliasburgh for the First Annual Al Purdy Picnic.  He knew that I wanted badly to be a part of the event at the A-Frame and so he attended with me.

We began at the community hall where we had our picnic lunch made by ‘the ladies’, a wonderful egg salad sandwich, cookie and lemonade as we leafed through Ameliasburgh history set out on the tables.  From there, we jumped on the shuttle bus and out to the A-Frame house edging on Roblin Lake.

From APAFA, this…

The A-frame house at the edge of Roblin Lake was built in 1957 by Al Purdy and his wife Eurithe, who had set aside $1200 dollars from CBC radio plays Al had written in Montreal. They bought a piece of land and a load of used buildings material from a structure being torn down in Belleville, then set to work, building from architect’s plans ordered from a popular magazine. As Al made clear in his autobiography, Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, in the first years they endured fierce cold and poverty and worry. “But Roblin Lake in summer, planting seeds and watching things grow; doing a marathon swim across the lake while Eurithe accompanied me in a rowboat; working at the house, making it grow into something that nearly matched the structure already in your mind. Owls came by night, whoo-whooing in a row of cedars above the house; blue herons stalked our shallows; muskrats splashed the shoreline; and I wrote poems.

Today, the Al Purdy A-Frame provides for a Writing Residency Program, a wonderful concept that has been and continues to be supported by a large number of interested individuals.

The John M. Parrott Art Gallery is housed in the Belleville Public Library.  Some time before the picnic, I had picked up a small stack of second hand books on one of my visits. One of those books, and a real treasure of mine now, is George Bowering’s 1970 book about his dear friend, Al Purdy.

Al Purdy by George Bowering Toronto Copp Clark 1970I read this analysis of Purdy’s poetry during long nights, struggling with grief at the loss of Mom.  As I read, I became more and more connected to the poet’s words.  I was really looking forward to walking through the landscape and home that had been a part of his writing.

Dad sat on a fallen tree with me…and I knew that it wasn’t his absolute favourite thing to do that day…but he did it with me.  He was there for me…and more than anything else, as I sit here writing on a winter’s eve’  this is what matters most.  We listened to poetry readings…heard a few speeches and a little bit of music in the company of great people and Al’s wife, Eurithe Purdy.  Then, without terrific pomp, we toured the little house…looked out onto the water…gazed up through the branches of trees and then we left.

Thank you to all of the organizers for welcoming us and for sharing with me, a piece of the magic.

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Roblin Lake

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Eurithe Purdy July 27 2013

Eurithe Purdy July 27 2013

P1110936 P1110940 P1110942 P1110944 P1110949 P1110952 P1110953 P1110955 P1110956 P1110957 P1110959 P1110961 P1110962 P1110963Since leaving Belleville, Dad has revisited Ameliasburgh and took a whole collection of photographs from his stop at the Museum/Library.  I am so blessed that we shared that time on Mom’s birthday.  I will never forget that afternoon.