13 May 2009

Al Purdy A-Frame Residency

I am involved in developing a residency program at the historic Al Purdy A-Frame on the south shore of Roblin Lake, a mile or so from the village of Ameliasburgh in Ontario. I worry this is going to be a very Ontatio-centric program so hoping to spread the word out west. Please pass on the information.

The A-Frame

So we built a house, my wife and I
our house at a backwater puddle of a lake
near Ameliasburg, Ont.
. . .
Working on my own A-frame we pounded nails
and sawed boards, cussing and seating a little
without money for electricity or plumbing
three lamps together and you might read a book
chopping thru winter ice for water
—Al Purdy, “In Search of Owen Roblin”

The list of people who travelled to the A-frame (if it would be possible to compile a comprehensive list) reads like a who’s who of Canadian letters—Margaret Atwood, Earle Birney, George Bowering, Lynn Crosbie, Dennis Lee, Steven Heighton, Patrick Lane, Margaret Laurence, Jack McClelland, John Newlove, Anna Porter, Elizabeth Smart, and the list goes on and on.

And it wasn’t just those aspiring to be poets who were welcomed. Poets, publishers, booksellers, academics, pool players, students, radio broadcasters, journalists, photographers, painters, and readers made their way to Ameliasburgh. Linda Crosfield reports the following story: "Over dinner the other night, I mentioned to my husband that I was writing a letter to support the initiative to preserve Al’s house. ‘I went there once,’ he mused, ‘it was 1972, the summer Judie and I drove across Canada with the kids. She grew up around there so we were able to find the place. Al wasn't home, but his wife was, and she opened her house to us as I explained how I’d taken courses from Al at Simon Fraser and was a big fan of his poetry.” This is how Al's house has always been, according to those who have found their way there.

The house draws people in. It's a pilgrimage to see the country, search out the places Al mentions in the poems, find the church spire and the site of Roblin's Mill, visit the Purdy Library in Ameliasburgh, cross the street to stroll down Purdy Lane to the graveyard where Owen Roblin and Al Purdy are buried along with the other pioneers of Prince Edward County—Al’s book-shaped gravestone bearing the inscription “This is where I came to / when my body left its body / and my spirit stayed / in its spirit home."

Continuing the Tradition—Writer-in-Residence Program

The residency program for the A-frame was designed by poets David Helwig, Steven Heighton, Karen Solie and Rob Budde. The poets were selected to include a broad poetic sensibility, geographical reach, breadth of experience with residency programs, knowledge of Purdy’s work and personal experience of the property. Both David and Steven were long time friends of the Purdys and spent many decades visiting Roblin Lake.

To begin, the residency will operate for 8 months, from April 1 to November 30. Later the winter months may be added. The A-frame will provide time and a place to work that is attractive and of historic significance. Writers can apply for a term of one to three months. The residency will be open to all writers, but preference will be given to poetry and poetry projects. The jury will also consider proposals for a one month project in critical writing about Canadian poetry each year and will be open to unusual and creative ideas for residencies.

Travel to Ameliasburgh will be paid. Those awarded the residency will be given a stipend of $2500 dollars a month while living in the A-frame, and will be free to spend their time on their writing. Residents will be expected to give one public reading or lecture for each month of their stay—presumably in one of the larger communities nearby, Picton, Belleville, Kingston—and to consider other reasonable requests. All this will be organized in collaboration with the Prince Edward County and Quinte Arts councils. The house is somewhat isolated, but the local liaison will be able to help with occasional rides for those who don’t have a car. Residents will be offered a temporary library card for the excellent library at Queen’s University in Kingston, where many of Al Purdy’s papers are held. Those awarded a residency will be asked to donate at least one copy of one of their books to the Residency Library. Writers in residence will also be encouraged to make themselves known at the Purdy Library in Ameliasburgh and to donate a book. They may also wish to discuss with the local liaison the possibility of working with local schools.

For more information about the project, contact Jean Baird at jeanbaird@shaw.ca or 604-224-4898.

Donations can be made by cheque, made to “The Al Purdy A-frame Trust” and mailed to:
4403 West 11th Ave.
Vancouver BC
V6R 2M2
(Tax receipts will be issued for amounts over $50)


At 1:35 AM, Blogger Nightingale said...

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