Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Reader's Diary #8: Al Purdy: Rooms For Rent In The Outer Planets (FINISHED)

So I'm through Al Purdy's Rooms For Rent In The Outer Planets and I have to say, I'm a fan of Purdy's writing. (I won't say of Purdy himself because I can't say that I know the man through one book- but he does come across as a bit of a cantankerous old man). I appreciate these poems as stories first and foremost. I really thought the afterword in this book was a good idea. It consists of clippings of Purdy thoughts as published in various prefaces, afterwords, journals and letters and they give an insight into the man that help you appreciate his work a little more. Sometimes I feel knowing too much about an author (or musician or any artist for that matter) can destroy an appreciation for the work itself (Would you agree?). But these bits seem to have been chosen carefully- while obviously some of the man's personality is going to come through, the chosen musings are mostly about his work. In one such piece, Purdy asks what it is that a reader wants from a poem. He answers, " be entertained..." And if that's what he thinks the reader wants, Purdy aims to please. These poems are entertaining. (Is that what a reader of poetry wants?)

As for my theory of the title , I don't think I'm that far off the mark. After completing the book, I still think there has been some point(s?) made about visiting and returning. Whether this be a visit to the Arctic, Cuba, the early cretaceous, the outer planets, or the mind of a French philosopher, Purdy seems to to reflect on what it would be like "renting" a room in another place, time, or thought. But there is always that notion of returning. After all, those rooms are for rent, not for sale. In the afterword, Purdy discusses why his poems are circular. Returning seems to be a preoccupation and one he explores quite well.

I've already mentioned a couple of poems that I've enjoyed. I'd also like to add "The Smell Of Rotten Eggs" to that list. I'm not sure how it fits into my theory that there is a common thread of visiting and returning running through this book (does it?), but its look at cancer and mortality was very heartfelt to me. While he doesn't shy away from foul language in most of these poems (my wife has actually started a "damn" count) there isn't anything vulgar as such until "The Smell of Rotten Eggs". And why shouldn't it be given the topic? A great word choice that really expresses the ugliness of the situation.

My only beefs with this collection are minor ones. The first is the occassional Greek mythology reference (for instance "Procne Into Robin"). While I can tolerate such references in older poems, I find them hard to tolerate in contemporary poems. Back in the 1700s (or sometime way back- contact your local historian!) education was pretty uniform (for those few that had it) and those reading a poet's work would probably understand the reference. Nowadays, few people have background knowledge of Greek heros, deities, epics and the like and we shouldn't have to in order to understand a poem. I'm not saying that a poet should just write about common themes that everyone can relate to (T.V. perhaps?) but the Greek references are overdone, annoying and prententious (much like my blogs). How do you feel about Greek (or Roman) references in contemporary poems? The second beef, well actually more of a taste thing, is the length of these poems. I find a poem easier to digest if it fits on a single page. ("Beef"? "Taste"? "Digest"? Is my subconcious telling me to eat?) It's not that I think some thoughts shouldn't be expanded upon if that's what it calls for, it's just that personally, I can focus better on a poem that's more compact (ex. e. e. cummings' "l(a" poem).

Insert a concluding paragraph here.


Robert Hiscock said...

I think when one knows too much about an artist there is a strong temptation to find autobiographical tidbits everywhere. It's something I rally against when reading and discussing poetry. I try not to make any assumption that they are one and the same. That said, such a distinction is difficult to maintain in Purdy's work. He often writes in such a distinctive voice, from such a seemingly personal perspective it is difficult to believe that the speaker is not Purdy himself.

As to whether knowing too much damages the full appreciation of the work... I'd be tempted to say yes, in some cases, depending on the reader. In some ways knowing too much of the background of the writer is a little like handing the reader a titled Rorschach inkblot and still expecting free associative projection -- it's not going to happen. If you know too much of the writer, and can't separate the speaker from the poet you are going to run into problems and probably see things the poet didn't intend... and didn't write.

John Mutford said...

"Damn" count: 20 (or 1 for every 3.5 poems)