I spent this summer shacked up in a modest A-Frame on a lake. It wasn’t just any A-Frame—it belonged to Al Purdy and his wife, Eurithe, who built it in 1957 and lived or summered there until Al’s death in 2000. Al and Eurithe acted as hosts to a variety of young and established writers during those decades, including Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Steve Heighton, Lynn Crosbie, Phil Hall, Milton Acorn and Margaret Laurence, just to name a few. Al’s influence on the Canadian literary scene was impressive, which is partly why, when the property was about to be put up for sale in 2008, a network of invested individuals swooped in and decided to raise funds with the objective of purchasing the property and turning it into a place where poets could apply to spend a few months writing, rent free, and with generous financial support. I was the first of seven poets chosen, and was very humbled to be on a list of names that included Nick Thran, Sue Sinclair, Laurie D. Graham, Helen Guri, Kath MacLean and Rob Taylor. One requirement of the residency is to undertake a project that involves the community: I proposed filming residents around The County reading Al Purdy’s poems, as well as conducting some on-camera interviews in and around the A-Frame with poets who knew Al. A HowPedestrian, County-Style, if you will. Today’s video is a compilation of my favourite readings from the summer, but I will be posting shorter videos of individual readings and interviews throughout September.
Living and writing in the A-Frame, which is situated in the now trendy Prince Edward County, was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. Every morning I drank my coffee at the lake and read or thought about my work before stepping into the writing room to hash it out with my poems. Sometimes I locked the door on myself. When I got stuck, I walked the county roads that cut through the nearby farm fields, fascinated by the glowing stalks of wheat, the odd behaviour of cows, the farm machines, the farm men racing around in their trucks, the absurdly perfect sunsets and the way the fields and the sky seemed to open up to forever. It made me giddy, joyful, humble. I drove to Wellington and Picton and Little Bluff and the Sandbanks and Bloomfield and Point Petre. I drank too much wine in The County’s wineries. I went for runs at dusk and slipped into warm, calm Roblin Lake afterward, taking in the fireflies before returning to my computer and my poems, which I dragged around the various rooms of the house with me. When I needed a break, I perused Al’s impressive book collection, or played his bizarre records (he was a fan of Classical, Neil Young and The Red Army Ensemble—uh-huh.)
Having this time and space to fully immerse myself in my work not only gave me fresh confidence in my voice, but also pushed me into a whole different plane of strangeness—opened my mind in a wonderful way, and drove me to look at new themes in my poetry—isolation, nostalgia, animals—or, at least, to look at them in a decidedly rural way. I came out with a body of work that feels like something, though I'm not sure what yet.
Through my adventures in filming, I got to meet the people of Prince Edward County: they were kind, helpful, open, funny, hardworking and down-to-earth -- and I love how each one makes the poem his or her own.