REACHING FOR THE BEAUFORT SEA: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Reviewed by Val K. Lem
Reviewed by Val K. Lem
Volume 22 Number 3
Celebrated poet Al Purdy begins his life story with a tale from the womb, followed by memories of childhood and a bored adolescence in Trenton, Ontario. At seventeen, he rode the rails to Vancouver. Disregard for military rules facilitated his courtship and marriage to Eurithe Parkhurst, but led to many demotions during his six-year Canadian-based stint in the RCAF.
The twenty years following the war were difficult. Purdy chronicles a troubled marriage a failed taxi business venture with his father-in-law, several cross-country moves with periods of employment in factories, and finally an impoverished existence in his self-built home near Ameliasburgh,Ontario.
Depending heavily on his wife's financial and moral support, Purdy was able to pursue literary interests. Low self-esteem was dulled somewhat by his minimal success as a playwright and by his growing body of published poetry. Friendship with Irving and Betty Layton and their circle of Montreal friends provided encouragement. Winning the Governor General's Award in 1965 gave him a new self-conf idence and marked a transition from writing as a habit to writing as a successful career.
Students of Canadian literature will be especially interested in the lengthy final chapter, where Purdy warmly and candidly describes his friendship and acquaintanceship with many literary figures including Layton, Milton Acorn and Margaret Laurence. A name index facilitates access to these writers.
Purdy's writing is uneven. His conversational style and too-frequent attempts to analyse actions/events can be tiresome. His witty, often earthy humour enlivens the text, as do excerpts from his poems and the inclusion of relevant photographs .
Recommended with reservations for all libraries that support the study of Canadian Poetry
Val K. Lem is a librarian with the Board of Education for the City of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario
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