Saturday, February 2, 2013

Crack Shack or Mansion?

Those who have read Claudia Cornwall's recent and recommendable (ch)oral history of Vancouver poet, artist, boatbuilder and software inventor Curt Lang (1937-1998) will have noticed mentions of the poet Al Purdy (1918-2000), who spent a fair bit of time here when not at his homes in Sidney, B.C, and Ameliasburgh, Ontario. Those familiar with the late-poet might also know that his crudely-built Ameliasburgh A-frame (with add-on) is something his fans are trying to save.

A couple days ago the Quill & Quire updated readers on how that preservation project is going, with an article that features quotes (like the one below) from Al Purdy A-frame Association advocate Jean Baird.

“[The house] was intrinsic to Al’s coming of age as a writer,” says Baird. “When they purchased the property in the late 1950s, Al thought of himself as a failure of a man, and he certainly thought of himself as a failure of a poet. Within five years of buying the property and building, Al had won his first Governor General’s Literary Award.”

While I have no problem with people trying to save things (particularly a "quaint A-frame" and a "work-in-progress," as the Q&Q have called it), I could not help but recoil from Baird's justification, not only in light of her ongoing interrogation of the award-vetting process but her assumption that property ownership makes a man a man, and that man a poet.

Baird's justification brings to mind the same kind of ad copy we see from Vancouver real estate companies trying to sell downtown condominiums, where commands like "Be bold or move to the suburbs" are tossed around as if people have enough money to even consider such a decision.

Back in 1994 Paul Delany edited an anthology that includes an essay by another Vancouver poet, Jeff Derksen, whose text ("Sites Taken as Signs: Place, the Open Text and Enigma in New Vancouver Writing") also makes mention of a company out to determine a singular subject position, in this instance through an epigram taken from a mining company's television ad:

"Jeanine is a living example of Noranda's attitude to employees."

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