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Purdy, Al
Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1990. 113pp, paper, $9.95, ISBN 0-7710-7217-1. CIP


Reviewed by Don Precosky

Volume 18 Number 5
1990 September

The Woman on the Shore is Al Purdy's first book after his landmark Collected Poems. What does one do after collecting one's poems? Collect some more. This book brings together new poems with a few very old ones that did not make it into the Collected. That they were missed the first time around suggests that they are not among his most memorable. Sadly, much of the new material is a repetition and reworking of old subjects. They are not particularly good, either.

The book looks in two directions at once to the past and to the future. The present is strangely absent. "Horses" is typical of his reworking of old material, for it inevitably reminds one of "Cariboo Horses," presenting its subjects as the embodiment of freedom, beauty and something lost. At the end there is a peek at the future: "and the body-clock ticks on." This line and the two concluding lines of "Voyeur" "use the bathroom/watch for blood in the stool" indicate the nature of Purdy's thoughts on the future: advancing age brings on the understandably unhappy awareness of death's nearness.

This mixture of looking back and ahead at the same time is best found in the poems on departed friends F.R. Scott, Margaret Laurence and Milton Acorn. In them Purdy relives good times with old cronies and glances ahead to his own end. In "Questions" he asks

What shall we say to Death
you and I
when time is short.

Wisely, Purdy knows that there is no answer.

Don Precosky, College of New Caledonia, Prince George, B.C.

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