Al Purdy's collected prose, Starting from Ameliasburg (edited by Sam Solecki, Harbour, $39.95 cloth), provides a profile of the artist as a youngster, young man, and not-so-young man.
Although these pieces, sixty-two in all, dating from 1958 to the present, are a round-up of travel and biographical articles, as well as book reviews, Purdy himself emerges as the main source of attraction here-not in any egregiously egotistical way but more quietly, something like a verbal Clint Eastwood, laying down the law regarding proper literary conduct.
As well as dispensing favourable judgements on other poets such as Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton, Earle Birney, and Dorothy Livesay, he hands out, literally, swift justice to a fellow for sneering at Canada Council funding. He punches the guy out.
We see Al Purdy as a child, faking sickness for two months so he could stay in bed, reading. Then in his teens during the 30s, he rode the rods. After this he worked for a number of years in a mattress factory before establishing himself as a major poet.
Concerning his artistic values, Purdy objects to the Black Mountain school of poetry, which he considers to be "corrupted in narcissistic love of technique itself." He believes that "despair and bitterness are sometimes good material for poems, but some kind of magnificence and/or profundity has to come out of them."
This book is an absorbing, generous-spirited account of Canada and its literature.