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Al Purdy reads from his poem ‘Concerning Ms. Atwood’

The Story

They had the most explosive of introductions. When Al Purdy first met Margaret Atwood in 1964, he dismissively called the young CanLit star "an academic." Stung by the jab, Atwood responded by spraying her beer in Purdy's surprised face. Purdy then turned his bottle on Atwood. In Purdy's autobiography he recalled, "surprise and outrage mingled on that lovely un-mouselike countenance -- then battle was joined."The two chased each other into the lake and fell into what Purdy deemed "an unloving embrace." Purdy described, "Peggy stared at me with blazing academic eyes." The two writers would later find themselves kindred spirits and maintained a tenderly mocking friendship. In this CBC Radio reading, Purdy reads from mock ode Concerning Ms. Atwood. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: Jan. 30, 1995
Guest: Al Purdy
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 2:22

Did You know?

There is Margaret Atwood
-she is accepting the Nobel Prize and reporters are crowding around with tears in their eyes asking why she is so marvellous she replies simply and modestly
"I am Margaret Atwood"
- excerpted from Concerning Ms. Atwood

• In a letter dated Oct. 4, 1964, Margaret Atwood extended the long-running "academic" debate with Purdy. She wrote that the term connoted:
"a) being esoteric, obscure, pedantic
b) belonging to some kind of established in-group or "academy"
c) in writing (as well as the above), writing according to a rather set or prescribed form & ideas etc, or excluding all other forms.  (I don't attach much value-judgement to the word; you and most others give it a negative one.)  So next time you call me academic, please indicate which connotation so I'll know exactly which nasty name I'm being called." - Yours, Al: The Collected Letters of Al Purdy. (2004)

• In 1999 Purdy fell ill with cancer and wrote a tender farewell to Atwood. He wrote, "I've had a lot of respect for you over a long period of time. That line of yours many years ago was part of it. Do you remember? 'That isn't true, John. You know that isn't true.' That one line made a large part of your character in my mind, and I think had much influence on me. So if I don't come out of this surgery session as 'expected,' your own eventual arrival will be attended with drums & flutes, welcoming signs."

• Sam Solecki, editor of Yours, Al: The Collected Letters of Al Purdy. (2004), wrote that Atwood's comment mentioned in the letter was made in response to a remark made by John Newlove before a group of people.

• "Listen to the voice, and watch the hands at work: just hands, a bit grubby too, not doing anything remarkable, and you can't see how it's done, but suddenly, where a second ago there was only a broken vase, there's a fistful of brilliant flowers." - Margaret Atwood describing Purdy in Beyond Remembering (2000).


Al Purdy, An Uncommon Poet more