Katherine Leyton: first writer-in-residence at the Purdy A-Frame

For only $2,000, you could get a new septic tank named after you on (under) one of Canada’s most famous literary sites.

It was standing room only at the Drinks for Al fundraiser held at the Monarch Tavern in Toronto on Monday night. The $10 cover and a dollar from each drink went to support the rehabilitation efforts for Al and Eurithe Purdy’s infamous A-frame house in Ameliasburg, Ontario. MC and A-frame project manager, Duncan Patterson, assured us that everything from the septic tank to the new drainage tiles and under-floor insulation could indeed be our legacy.

I’m telling you, it’s honestly very tempting.

Donations to the Purdy A-Frame Association will be put to good use.

Donations to the Purdy A-Frame Association will be put to good use.

According to a January 21st press release I received:

“The A-frame house was built on Roblin Lake in 1957 by the late Al Purdy, one of Canada’s greatest poets, and his wife, Eurithe. Thanks to the generosity of Eurithe Purdy and donors from across Canada, the A-frame was acquired in 2012 by the Al Purdy A-frame Association, a national non-profit organization with a mandate to promote Canadian literature and to preserve the home as a retreat for future generations of Canadian writers.”

Poets Paul Vermeersch, Stuart Ross, Jim Smith and Karen Solie read from Purdy’s work as well as their own at Monday night’s fundraiser. Then Karen Solie introduced one of the winners of the Purdy A-Frame Writer-in-Residence award, the first poet to take up residency there this summer, Katherine Leyton.

I managed to wend my way through the well-wishers to ask Katherine for an interview with Descant which we did the next day, by phone, from her home in London.

LK:  First of all, congratulations. I understand that many applied but only you were chosen. How did you get the news?

KL: Actually, I wasn’t the only one chosen, there are in fact seven of us altogether [Sue Sinclair, Nick Thran, Kath MacLean, Laurie Graham, Rob Taylor and Helen Guri] but I will be the first one who will be staying there.

I got a call from Jean Baird, the president of  the Purdy A-Frame Association. At the time I didn’t have voice mail set up on my cell phone but I saw that a Vancouver number kept calling. Then she sent me an email saying she’d like a chat, that she had good news for me. So later that night she called me and when she told me the news I was basically jump-up-and-down excited.

Katherine Leyton. Checking her voicemail?

Katherine Leyton. Checking her voice mail? (photo credit Clay Fisher)

LK: Despite the ongoing renovations and rehabilitations, the A-frame is still a rustic cottage. What is the appeal for you to be a full-time writer there?

KL: Well I’d say first of all, just given its historical significance in the literary community, and of course it’s where Al worked and had so many interesting people there. And it’s removed from distraction. It’s going to feel as if I’m stepping out of my life for the moment. I won’t have to work every day for two months [Katherine is an assistant librarian] and so I can focus on my poetry — and it’s very rare to have such an opportunity. The change of scene will be so refreshing and will help the creative process.

Al Purdy's desk, in the office shed a few feet outside the A-frame. (Yes, of course I sat there and had my picture taken.)

Al Purdy’s desk, in the shed-like office, a few feet outside the A-frame.

LK: What if Purdy fans turn up on your doorstep while you’re there? Do you intend to keep up the literary tradition with drinks and talk of poetry on the deck?

KL: Absolutely! I’d really like to meet members of the community and keep the tradition going. A few drinks and conversation on the deck will keep me sane while I’m there. Writing can be very isolating so I welcome the conversation and company to keep a good balance, although my partner will be spending some time there with me. But maybe people should call me first!

LK: What does this Writer-in-Residence commitment require from you — a number of poems, some community work? Not the ditch-digging kind – I mean the public speaking kind, although, given the state of the A-frame…

KL: I know they do want us to do some community work. I’m not sure what forum it will take – that’s up to the individual poet, and as occasions arrive. In my proposal, I pitched the idea of filming my howpedestrian videos, where I take to the streets and hand people poems to read aloud on camera. I will focus particularly on poems by Al Purdy and other poets from the area. The committee thought this was a great way to introduce the writer-in-residence project to the community there.

Also, I will be helping to host the Second Annual Purdy Picnic this summer. I understand that the inaugural event was quite a success last year.

In the backyard of the Purdy A-Frame at the First Annual Purdy Picnic, summer 2013.

In the backyard of the Purdy A-Frame at the First Annual Purdy Picnic, summer 2013. That’s Eurithe Purdy, in the background, on the right, sitting on a camp chair.

LK:  What kind of poetry do you write and would you say that Al Purdy influenced you?

KL: I find this a hard question to answer. I write mainly short poems written in a very colloquial style and they focus on disturbing or beautiful elements of everyday situations. Where normal moments become surreal. A lot of my poems deal with feminist issues.

Al Purdy was actually a big influence. His conversational style is something I aspire to in my own work.

LK: Have you ever been published in Descant?

KL: No, but I’d like to be! I love Descant. I have to admit that I haven’t submitted anything.

LK: Yes, well, that is the first step to publication! What will you be working on during your writer-in-residency?

KL: The manuscript for my first book of poetry. I can’t believe I have two whole months to work on this, without having to worry about paid work and my normal day-to-day responsibilities. It will be like stepping out of my life, at least for a little while.

LK: Congratulations again. It’s clear to me why you were chosen and I think your howpedestrian project is such a great way to start this residency program.

KL: Thanks to Descant for your interest.

***

If you would like to make a donation to the rehabilitation and maintenance of the Al and Eurithe Purdy A-Frame, click here and think about which plumbing fixture or drainage tile you’d like to have your name engraved on. For an added fee of course. I suggest you choose something above ground so that your name is more easily visible to future generations of appreciative poets.

2 Responses to Katherine Leyton: first writer-in-residence at the Purdy A-Frame

  1. Can’t afford the septic system but would love to fund something. Would be great if they listed the possibilities.

  2. Pingback: The Purdy A-frame A-list: your money, your name, forever | Descant BLOG

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