The Purdy A-frame A-list: your money, your name, forever

People are funny and generous and kind. But mostly funny.

That’s why Descant blog commenter “RW” had such a great idea after my last post: why not print the actual list of items needed to restore the Al and Eurithe Purdy A-frame? Sure, folks who can will click a website’s “donate” button from time to time. But if you knew you could have the most famous and literary septic pump named after you, wouldn’t you dig deeper and jump at the chance?

Michael Enright cannot be reached for comment.

Michael Enright cannot be reached for comment. Click on image for full-effect.

Thanks to the help of the Purdy A-Frame Association President, Jean Baird, and Project Manager, Duncan Patterson, Descant now has the list. The A-frame A-list. But since it’s just a list of items and amounts, I’ve taken some poetic liberty. Some would say a lot of poetic liberty.

Leonard Cohen has donated, although it’s not clear what he would like his name on. I’m guessing something close to the lake, where you can hear the boats go by.

What about you? What would you like to install in your name at Al and Eurithe’s famous house on the shores of Roblin lake, where for 50 years the couple entertained, supported and (Al) argued with the Canadian writers we have come to love and appreciate?

All monies raised go to fixing up the physical structure of the house and property, impressively and carefully managed by Al Purdy admirer, Duncan Patterson, and to sustain a Writer-in-Residence program that will support and promote Canadian writers and literacy.

If you know Al Purdy’s poetry, you know that he, of all people, could make even a list poetic. With kind permission, I’ve tried to conjure him, in his own words, even though we all know that “poems will not really buy beer or flowers” [from At The Quinte Hotel… but you knew that].

So, whoever you are, “RW,” here’s that list. Get out your chequebook. You started this.

The Purdy A-frame A-list

Item                                                                   Price                     Quantity        

Decks                                                                       3k                                    2

This is where it happened – the heated discussions and arguments about poetry and politics. Young poets and novelists of the day came to eat and drink on the deck off the A-frame kitchen. And now new young writers will sit there, “between lightning flashes/writing” [After Rain], with “fingers like fireflies on the typewriter” [For Margaret]. Keypad, whatever.

Margaret Laurence and Al Purdy outside the A-frame. Their correspondence was published in (credit Hazel Legate, Flickr Creative Commons).

Margaret Laurence and Al Purdy outside the A-frame. Their correspondence was published in Margaret Laurence, Al Purdy: A Friendship in Letters (McClelland & Stewart, 1994). (photo credit Hazel Legate, Flickr Creative Commons).

Trickle Pump                                                       1k                                    1

The trickle pump ensures that there is always some water to pump to the house. It’s a kind of recovery system, if the well were to run dry. Need I say more? Al certainly didn’t love all his poems, but his well never dried up and he never gave up.

“my poems you have failed/but when I have recovered from/this treachery to myself/I shall walk among the hills chanting/and celebrate my own failure/transformed to something else.” [On Realizing He Has Written Some Bad Poems]

Well Pump                                                            1k                                    1

When Al and Eurithe started building the A-frame in 1957, according to Al,

“… we pounded nails/and sawed boards, cussing and sweating a little/without money for electricity or plumbing/three lamps together and you might read a book/chopping thru winter ice for water/If the result wasn’t home it was a place to camp/and whatever gods there were/who permitted pain and defeat/also allowed brief content” [Old Man]

You can have a private chuckle, every day, knowing that all their hardship was, in the end, rewarded. By you. Someone who knows Al only through his poetry. You have to admit, he’d probably like that.

Septic Pump                                                         1k                                    1

If I could swing it, this one’s for me. That is, if Michael Enright hasn’t beaten me to it. So very necessary, practical, unpoetic and yet…

“I am drinking beer with yellow flowers,” [Quinte Hotel] wrote Al, who once stood “…outside at night/after the requisite number of beers/and with a graceful enormous parabola/trying to piss on the stars/failing magnificently” [Attempt].

Where Al sat.

Al’s restored “gingham highrise.”

Washing Machine                                             600                                    1

Imagine that the cleaning machine you donate could one day wash the skivvies of a new Michael Ondaatje, George Elliott Clarke or Susan Musgrave? And washing machines are necessary, especially for poets, because “… love survives in the worst cologne” [Married Man’s Song].

Baseboard Heaters                                          500                                    5

“Later when it gets colder/one of the ladies/gives me a big piece/ of canvas to throw over the tent/and sews it on securely/ to keep me warm at night/ -What can I say?” [What Can’t Be Said]

Well, you could say that you are keeping warm the next generation of writers, a kind of incubator for creativity, the results of which often bring us to our knees. And our senses.

Front Hall Floor                                                600                                    1

The front hall floor at the Purdy A-Frame was a bit of a hazard when I was there last summer. I imagined the treacherous journey across it, after a few drinks. The front hall is the first thing you see when you enter the house and the piece of floor everyone must traverse, drunk or sober. It’s where writers you love have hugged hello and kissed goodbye for 50 years. Yours for $600. A deal at twice the price.

“I am thinking home is the ghost of home/and we are somewhere in between” [Old Man]

Things have improved since I took this photo of the front steps last summer.

Things have improved since I took this photo of the front steps last summer.

Firewood shelter                                               500                                    1

In his poem House Guest, written about poet Milton Acorn, Purdy writes, “how the new house built with salvaged old lumber/bent a little in the wind and dreamt of the trees it came from.” Your shelter would protect the dreams of its inhabitants. For awhile.

Benches                                                                500                                    10

What a lovely idea to donate a bench in your name, or your family’s name. Okay, it’s a tad cliché, but it’s one of the good ones. Writers and Purdy admirers will be able to sit on your bench, “like a small monk/in a green monastery/meditating/   almost sculpture” [The Last Picture in the World]. And when you come to visit, you too can sit there and watch for the great blue herons that left Al transfixed.

Writing Cabin Ceiling                                    500                                    1

A cabin without a ceiling is … a lean-to? For $500 it could be your ceiling that future renowned poets and novelists stare up at, searching for just that one right word that will propel them to infamy. Or the next sentence. You will be able to say that you are, literally, providing a roof (come on, the ceiling is attached to the roof) over the heads of future generations of Canadian writers. The cabin isn’t fancy and doesn’t face the lake, but, on the positive side, there’s nothing about it that would distract a writer from doing anything but write. While “there are rooms for rent in the outer planets,” [Married Man’s Song] Al’s writing cabin will do just fine.

The writing cabin, to the right of the Purdy A-frame. Like the man himself, not glamorous, but gets the job done.

The writing cabin, to the right of the A-frame. Here Purdy wrote many of the poems that would be published in 39 books. His poetry is filled with animals, birds, flowers, and the forests, mountains and lakes of the Canadian landscape; public figures and private friends; and many of his poems are shot through with a deep sense of failure, mourning, struggle… and the colour yellow.

Trees & Shrubs                                                  250                                    20

The other items on this list are imperative for the structure to run well and last a long time, but let’s face it – trees and shrubs will last longer. How great to have a tree growing on the Purdy property, in your name. Your literary soil-and-sun dependent metaphor, something to feed your “… small passion for permanence” [An Arrogance]. Something to block out the sounds of the busy-body world, “Beyond our trees that belong/to themselves the highway/traffic’s sullen sounds/a quietness in our bones” [Our Wilderness].

And buying a shrub is good, too, although, “expect only a small whisper/of birds nesting and green things growing/and a brief saying of them” [The Dead Poet].

Still can’t find the perfect thing, the one pragmatic item you would like affixed with your name for all eternity (or whatever the guarantee states)? Well, “the bill is due and the desk clerk wakes” [Married Man’s Song] so I’ll leave you with the rest of the list. Grab a book of Al’s poems and see which of these strikes at your core. It’s just a little A-frame on a little treed property, but, as Al observed, “…the way humans attach emotion/to one little patch of ground/and continually go back there/in the autumn of our lives/to deal with some of the questions/that have troubled us” [Red Leaves].

Ceiling fan                                                            120                                    2

Exhaust fan                                                          300                                   3

Pressure tank                                                     500                                    1

Sprayed Polyurethane Insulation              3k                                     1

Sump Pump                                                           1k                                     1

Drainage ditch                                                    4k                                     1

Air to Air heat exchanger                               6k                                     1

If you leave a comment below, I can put you in touch with the A-Frame Association and you can discuss with them the size of the name plaque you want for literary eternity. For $25,000, the entire list is yours and I’m sure something legacy-worthy can be arranged.


The Al Purdy poems from which the lines above were borrowed, with all due respect to Al, appear here with permission. All for the ultimate purposes of making more sturdy the house, the memories and the future that Eurithe and Al Purdy built, on the shores of Roblin Lake.

All these poems can be found in Al’s last book, Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, which he and Sam Solecki put together before Purdy’s death in 2000, for Harbour Publishing. And for Eurithe.



17 Responses to The Purdy A-frame A-list: your money, your name, forever

  1. Actually, we did hear from Michael Enright. He thought Duncan’s doctored photo was “hilarious.”

    As for the idea of naming sump pumps and dehumidifiers after donors–it’s pure Al. He’d love it.

    Now, who wants that sump pump?

  2. So do I choose by favourite poem, price, or aesthetics of the object?

  3. RW, that is a tough decision. Let me know what you decide!

  4. Since we’re all from time to time full of hot air I’ll buy the ceiling fans.

  5. Well, I wish the A-frame needed 100 ceiling fans. The demand is high, and they are gone.

  6. Hi Jean — a suggestion… amounts in the high hundreds and thousands are mind-and-pocket-phenumbling for many of us… Is it possible to have, say, triple plaques (3 names on a septic pump, for example?) More trouble I know, administratively, but I and others might be able to do something of that order. By the way, what a TERRIFIC and fun and word-centred idea. And your blurbs are ditto.

  7. Thanks, Susan, it was fun to write. Excellent suggestion about the group-buy idea.

  8. Maybe people were imagining themselves swinging from one?

  9. Hmmm… by your logic, there should be a lineup for the septic pump!!

  10. Renee, it is true, the ceiling fans are spoken for. But, unless I am mistaken, there ARE two exhaust fans still available for sponsorship. They also get rid of hot air. And, despite the image above, the septic pump is actually still available, which gets rid of something else that we’re all full of from time to time 🙂

  11. Also, re the group buy idea – brilliant, and yes we can most definitely do that! Anyone interested in putting money towards an item should feel free to get in contact.

  12. YES to a group effort! And I wish I could take credit for the idea and the writing, but I can’t. It was the wonderful Lesley Kenny who did all the poetry research and writing.

  13. What a simply splendid idea Susan! A group effort seems the way of it. Hot air, air that swirls above us round & round, mixing breath with breath, other things we flush out gladly and not so gladly. Cold feet or feet firmly on the ground? Can a poet be firm, rooted? Trees reaching towards heaven for a lovely nip, a bench to land on — to sit & dream & sit & think — a ceiling to glare at, talk to, a washing machine for all that sweat —

    yes, I think all of this is a great idea!

  14. The sump pump is now “sold” as is one bench.

  15. How do I make out my cheque and where do I send it? B
    est wishes for a great project. Sue

  16. Note — the donate button didn’t work for me, so I’ll go via old-fashioned mail!

  17. Actually, when you send the cheque we don’t have to pay any paypal fees so that means every penny goes to the A-frame. Cheques can be made out to
    Al Purdy A-frame Association
    4403 West 11th Ave.,
    Vancouver BC
    V6R 2M2

    Thanks, Susan.

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