In new doc Al Purdy Was Here, hear Margaret Atwood read 'Wilderness Gothic'
An exclusive preview of the award-winning doc about Canada's 'unofficial poet laureate'
He's known as "The Voice of the Land," and to many, Al Purdy was the best poet Canada has ever known. Leonard Cohen, Tanya Tagaq, Michael Ondaatje and Bruce Cockburn are just a few of the artists who pay tribute to his work in Al Purdy Was Here, a new documentary opening in cities around the country this winter. This fall, when the film won a people's choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival, we shared one of those moments, The Tragically Hip's Gord Downie reads Purdy's poem "At the Quinte Hotel." This new audio excerpt features another Canadian icon, and a long-time friend of Purdy, Margaret Atwood.
"Wildnerness Gothic" is how you'd describe Atwood's books (Surfacing or Wilderness Tips, anyway), and it's also the title of the Purdy poem she recites here, a piece originally published in 1968, three years after winning his first Governor General's Literary Award. His work frequently reflected the Canadian landscape, and for "Wilderness Gothic," we're taken to Prince Edward County, Ontario — "across Roblin Lake, two shores away."
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Atwood met Purdy in 1964. The circumstances have become CanLit legend — as stories that involve spitting beer in the face of Canada's "unofficial poet laureate" tend to do. The CBC Archives have more on that story, just one of the items in their trove of Purdy clips.
Al Purdy Was Here. Featuring Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Gord Downie, Michael Ondaatje, Gordon Pinsent, Tanya Tagaq. Directed by Brian D Johnson. 92 min. Opens Dec. 3, Winnipeg. Dec. 4, Toronto and Whistler Film Festival. Opens Jan. 28, Vancouver. Screening in select cities as part of the TIFF Film Circuit, Dec. 12 - March 30. www.tiff.net/filmcircuit