Tim Bowling has a discussion about poetry and criticism in Canada, in which we learn Al Purdy is not much of a poet, it’s OK to refer to women as pack animals, Don Coles is a pretty awesome writer, Irving Layton makes grown men cry, and much more. It’s a worthwhile read; check it out.
I think Purdy is nowhere as good as enthusiasts claim. I also don’t feel there’s any treason in saying so. Too often, Canadian poetry requires its readers to be “all in.” Disclose an objection and you’re branded an enemy of the state. I concede that the Heaney-Walcott-Murray axis has perhaps become a convenient shorthand, too easily drawn on by the critic of the underperforming, underdog nation. But when you have Sam Solecki declare that Purdy represents “a point at which Canadian poetry can enter without embarrassment the imaginary anthology of international contemporary poetry” you realize that “world-class” means nothing for us. The word is a special prize handed out by Canadianists — a placebo, a publicity-kit term, an illusion-enabler, a gift of our group loyalty. Mordecai Richler nailed it years ago when he mocked the locally fêted as being “world-famous in Canada.