Artist in Residence Program
Writers find inspiration at the Al Purdy A-Frame
By Jennifer Shea
Literary, Prince Edward County
The Al Purdy A-frame Association’s Writer-in-Residence Program is welcoming the latest group of writers to the property. Selected Canadian writers are able to spend anywhere from two to twelve weeks residing and working in the A-frame house that was built, and inhabited, by Canadian poet Al Purdy and his wife, Eurithe. Since the program launched in 2014, 36 writers have participated.
“There are only a handful of houses in the whole country that are literary houses that function as residency programs,” says Jean Baird, president of the Al Purdy A-frame Association. “The only two where the writer actually lived, and wrote, in the house are the Purdy House and the Haig Brown House in Campbell River. It’s a very special experience.”
Poet Daniel Lockhart, who began his residency in April, agrees. “From southwestern Ontario, you dream about spending time in places like this. It’s calm, it’s quiet, it’s relaxing. The quality of air here is so much better. There’s a good energy that really feeds creation and almost happiness.”
“You can feel that there’s something different. There’s a way that you become centred here. That’s an attribute of the community, its people, and the place.”
Lockhart’s poetry typically focuses on decolonization, looking at mythologies and histories, and is rooted in ecological themes. He connected with Al Purdy’s poetry in that it spoke from the land and everyday people.
Lockhart’s residency project focused on the extensive communications between Al Purdy and other poets, particularly German-American poet, novelist, and short-story writer Charles Bukowski. He is working on a full-length collection of these communications. “Al was a much more awarded poet. He was much more highly regarded than Bukowski in the literary community. Bukowski was much more of an everyday man’s poet. It’s an interesting sort of flip-flop.”
When Al and Eurithe purchased the Ameliasburgh property and started building the A-frame in 1957, Al considered himself a failed poet. “Within eight years of building that house and living there, he won his first Governor General’s Award,” says Baird. “He started writing out of the vernacular of the County and it shaped the development of his poetry in really significant ways.”
Writers-in-residence at the A-frame enjoy the property pretty much as it was when Al and Eurithe lived there. It has a certain magic that’s often commented upon. “You can definitely sense that there’s still traces of Al here,” says Lockhart. “You can feel it. You’re picking his books up. Your hands are touching the same things he touched. There’s no doubt that his spirit is here.”
Lockhart also noticed that the atmosphere sparked his creativity. “All of a sudden, out of the blue, you might snag a line of poetry or even prose. Usually, when I’m not in a place like this, it could come every four days. It comes every two or three hours here.”
This article is dedicated to the memory of Steven Heighton (August 14, 1961 – April 19, 2022).
Sponsored by the Government of Canada