From We Go Far Back in Time: The Letters of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, 1947–1987. Edited by Nicholas Bradley and published by Harbour Publishing in 2014. Earle Birney and Al Purdy were two of Canada’s best-known and influential poets. Nicholas Bradley has published numerous critical essays and reviews. He lives in Victoria.
October 5, 1982
Greeting. Yeah, sorry we never got to talk. I had the GG’s aides de camp at my table on accounta not enough Purdy subscribers. I drank fast to get the uniforms blurry.
What’s this record stuff? You now a recording artist?
Yeah, Peter [Trower] phoned some time back, and I said (he in B.C.) come down. Didn’t even know he was east.
I’m writing little besides autobio stuff. Got to 50,000 words and bogged down.
What do I say, talk about, etc? Some two or three poems that seem worthwhile in last few months. Never get another book at that pace. And if I’m not writing stuff I think “decent” then I get depressed at myself. So writing is a kinda drug. You live your life doing it, and the withdrawal symptoms are terrible.
I didn’t have dinner clothes, so my clothes were what they were. What’ll I do at the Order of Can. investiture on the 20th? Rent clothes? Seems too much. Met Jim Houston before the Tor. shindig, and he rented clothes.
Luv to both of you, and do get a car and come down,
—Al October 15, 1982
Don’t rent, don’t worry about Jim Whoever, don’t streak, just wear whatever you’re wearing, & so uphold the uniqueness of Poets—I resisted all attempts by Aide de Camp followers & wore my only matching coat & pants (dark & 10 years old)—at my shindig there was an Albertan cowboy in chaps & Stetson, & a missionary in sackcloth. Only poetaster finks wear monkey suits & medals—be Al Purdy for christ’s sake.
October 21, 1982
Thanks much for record. You did three of em? I hope they sell really well. Should’ve had your picture.
Just got back from Ottawa. Wore black jacket and charcoal pants, and bought a pair of black shoes for 25 cents from a thrift shop. I was not the most fashionably attired person present. However, I saw no cowboys nor sackcloth missionaries.
Talked with Trudeau a coupla minutes, ate a lotta good food, and drank some good wine. I wore no medals. Think they’re a bit ostentatious, especially if you don’t have very many like me. I would say my jacket was much over ten years old.
Anyway, the investiture part was a dull and boring period.
I bought a book of erotic art that would make a dildo wilt.
We snuck out today (Eurithe was there too) into whimpering rain. Glad to be gone. And back to the goddam autobio, which sticks me in middle age and unable to grow old by more than a page at a time.
Oh yes, also talked with the guy—a lieutenant in the navy who’s also an aide de camp—who printed Layton’s unpublished poems in Valley Editions. I haven’t read them anyway. Man named Thomas, yclept David. (Beautiful word, yclept!)
Take care of yourself (and Wailan in some fashion)