Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Ivory Thought: Essays on Al Purdy

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Ivory Thought: Essays on Al Purdy

Article excerpt

Gerald Lynch, Shoshannah Ganz and Josephine Kealey (eds), The Ivory Thought: Essays on Al Purdy (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2008), 265pp. Paper. $38. ISBN 978-0-7766-0665-1.

In a reflective piece in this new collection, D.M.R. Bentley asks the question: 'is Purdy more than a sporadically very good lyric poet?' (p. 244). The Ivory Thought says yes, proving the point in papers from a 2006 symposium on Purdy's writing. For Bentley, an allencompassing, informing vision differentiates the very good from the great in poetic practice. Though Purdy is rather unfashionable in the current post-postmodern environment, these essays tease out the unique, unifying gaze that makes him an 'unofficial Canadian poet laureate' (p. 1). Exploring the status of personal and aesthetic outsider, relating to what is outside the mainstream in time and place, Purdy speaks to the national psyche. His ambivalence about family and artistic worth and his taste for the primitive, the prehistoric and the empty Canadian north invest these subjects with new meanings and resonance.

Two core themes permeate the volume. Purdy's focus on self-definition and on inner conflict and contradiction expresses a Romantic predilection for interiority. Purdy's imaginative re-selving invites focus on the poet's autobiographical writings, on personal reminiscences about him, and on writers who influence his technique and poetics. Sam Solecki locates the poet's distinctive voice in his life experience as much as in his engagement with Canadian locations and history. Margaret Steffler's fine essay on childhood in Purdy's memoir and poetry highlights the Wordsworthian traces of the sublime and the uncanny in his work. Purdy's metaphoric conflation of material and spiritual into an almost religious vision is apparent to Tim Heath, while recollections from George Bowering, Steven Heighton and Doug Beardsley suggest Purdy's tastes and influences. …

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