Ode to Al Purdy – A Litter of Poets

Walking the puppy amid the ruins
of another long winter, lawns sepia with mould,
the snow dying without grace, gumbo on my heels,
the dog is happy, her tail a flag of joy
but I curse this exile north of 55
and the circumpolar wind, ugly as seal breath,
that haunts a landscape unfit for anyone
but skittish trappers or a priest
on the verge of being defrocked.

T.S. Elliot was right – this is the cruellest month.
Litter thrusts out of the snow
like a thousand rude gestures
and I long for the tsunami of green
that is April on the West Coast.
But this morning my mother insisted
she was not crazy, there was a robin perched
on her steaming compost box
and so I listen for bird song and follow
my small white wolf, who unlike me
is bred for a lifetime in Siberia.

Then, there in the snow bank
brazen as strippers, blinking in the sun,
a posse of beer bottles,
trapped mid cheers.
I freeze, entranced by the arctic blue
of the label, a silver effigy of the Kokanee glacier
that defined the horizon where I grew up.
I think of my friend Tom
who wrote a poem about his friend Al
and beer bottles as prairie crocuses
and endless highways and hope.

Suddenly I am elated
as I stagger on with the dog,
drunk with joy that it is April,
that I can call myself Canadian, a citizen of
a country of countries, of 13 solitudes,
where a poet drinks beer at school
and throws the empties out his office window
and is not only forgiven but celebrated,
where the geese over my head chant
about the typewriter ribbon highways
they’ve traced back to this still-empty north.

A country where poets
work their lines in factories,
where poets weld stanzas at Syncrude,
where in April poets thumb our noses
at cruelty and spring blizzards,
pack a sack of beer into the trunk
and head out on the road with the geese.
A country where poetry is not
the only place that truth is spoken,
where we may still speak truth
and be forgiven.

The dog glances up at my laughter
her eye as blue as an ice chip,
and I tell her I am drunk too
with reverence for the voyageur poets
who shaped our collective voice,
the big footsteps
in which I am walking,
where words stumble along with me,
in love with this land
and its April pussy willows,
the coyote trails through my small city
and the vast aching wealth
of distance that unites us
from coast to coast to coast.

~ Dymphny Dronyk

Dymphny Dronyk is a writer, artist, mediator and mother. She is passionate about the magic of story and has woven words for money (journalism, corporate writing) and for love (poetry, fiction, drama, mystery novels) for over 25 years. After years of rambling on an eclectic career path (camp cook, editor, waitress, photographer), her gypsy spirit took root in the Peace Country and her energy is now directed towards raising her 3 children and running her business (Dynamic Data Complete Emergency Response Planning).

Her first volume of poetry, Contrary Infatuations, was published by Frontenac House as part of Quartet 2007 and shortlisted for both the Stephan G. Stephansson Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award.

Dymphny is the current Past President of the Writers Guild of Alberta, and is serving on the League of Canadian Poets board.


This poem has been posted as part of a tribute to Al Purdy, the man widely regarded as Canada’s first true national poet. The League of Canadian Poets has declared April 21 to be National Al Purdy Day. The “Purdy A-Frame Trust” has been started to raise funds to preserve Purdy’s famous home in Ameliasburg, Ontario. For more information or to make a contribution to the Trust contact: Jean Baird, 4403 West 11th Ave., Vancouver, BC, V6R 2M2. Phone: 604 224 4898 or email: jeanbaird@shaw.ca


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