Sunday, July 27, 2008

Canuck Book 1 - Al Purdy's Selected Poems (1972 edition)

War is hell and so are reading challenges. Mr. Mutford, mastermind and administrator of the 2'nd Canadian Book Challenge, Eh? offered up a prize for commenting on a book of poetry during the month of July. The notion of reading a book of poetry for the challenge seemed like a worthy endeavour so I jumped at it. And then I stumbled. And jumped again. And missed. And jumped.

You see, I love poetry. I love the razor sharp precision of good verse. I love the way it sounds and feels. A large part of my book collection is devoted to poetry. In the past month, I have read poems by Canuck writers Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Milton Acorn, Michael Ondaatje, Irving Layton and Al Purdy. I also read poetry by Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg, ee cummings and Charles Bukowski. (I know I should be reading newer and younger poets, but I just haven't got around to it yet.)

So it's not poetry in and of itself that made this task difficult.

Just over 2 years ago, I decided to become a member of the small and entirely unofficial every station club. In one day, I went to every station on the TTC. Easy enough, if you're just passing through. Not so easy when you make a point of leaving and entering every station, grabbing a transfer on your way back in (the TTC subway transfers have the station name where they are issued stamped on them, making them a record of your trek). It was a day of long staircases and trips too short to read anything. Anyways, it was an ordeal I only survived because I get obsessive-compulsive about these things.

Reading this book felt much the same to me. Don't get me wrong. The book, itself, is great. Al Purdy is one of my favourite poets and the book is filled with great poems. In fact, the spine of the book is now jammed with scraps of paper so I can flip back to particular gems.

What bothered me was the notion of reading a book of poetry from cover to cover. I just can't do it. I love flipping through a book, picking poems at random. I like the happy accidents this creates, where you chance upon some phrase or thought that sets your mind ablaze. I like jumping from book to book and poet to poet. In contrast, reading Purdy's selected cover to cover was something of a drag. I found myself forcing my way through when I should have be stopping and marvelling.

It took me all month to muster the determination to read a poetry book from end to end and I probably won't be doing it again any time soon. I will, of course, be reading a lot more Purdy because, as much as reading the book through bothered me, I wound up reading lots of great poems.

(for my old blog post on the every station club, go here -

1 comment:

John Mutford said...

I find reading poetry books much like eating olives. I love it but can certainly understand why someone wouldn't. I do like the surprises from just picking up a poem at random, as you say, but I find something therapeutic about going from cover to cover. They don't all sink in, but they do something for me.