CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Purdy, Al.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1984. 144pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-7710-7213-9. CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Pamela Black

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

Al Purdy is a prolific and successful Canadian writer, and Piling Blood is his twenty-seventh book of poems and his first major collection in three years. In this volume, Purdy has included poems dealing with a wide range of topics, which he has only vaguely ordered according to theme. The book has no subsections, and the task of perceiving patterns within this poetic assortment is entirely up to the reader. Initially this is a pleasant task, but gradually the payoff becomes too slight to warrant the effort.

Many of the poems revolve around infancy and development, both of individuals and of species, and death and extinction become the ultimate concern. The poem "On the Planet Earth," which serves as the book's epigraph, subtly ties these issues together:

She was lovely as sunrise
meeting sunset at the world's edge.

The compelling image of sunrise meeting sunset tunes the mind's ear to the images of duplicity which follow. We forget how life and death, infancy and old age, and crudity and sophistication involve each other, and these poems serve as a reminder.

Purdy mingles our evolutionary ancestors with our historic forerunners. One minute we contemplate the aging Menelaus' despair at the realization that his life has been gambled away for the hollow symbol of Helen's beauty. Next we contemplate man "making" himself at the birth of word, metaphor and myth, and then, in a moment, we are lumbering about with the shadows of dinosaurs or being tugged at by our genetic memory as we watch seals and iguanas.

Ultimately, however, Piling Blood suffers from something like an excess of accessibility. While the frequent allusions to Darwin, the classics, D.H. Lawrence and other topics of general interest may facilitate interdisciplinary high school studies, the total candidness and tiresome obscenities, coupled with an apparent lack of contrivance in Purdy's verse, in the final analysis, present few fresh insights, conjure only rare alluring images and leave us with little to say or think upon completion.

Pamela Black, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works