25th Trillium Award

Five Questions with Chris Faiers: PurdyFest 2011

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PurdyFest 2011

Chris Faiers is the organizer of Quinte region literary festival PurdyFest, an event that's earned the reputation of being a 'tribal gathering' of Canadian poets in the Marmora area.

The event begins with a potluck supper on July 29 and the weekend following features a symposium on the works of Raymond Souster and readings from Ontario poets as well as musical performances.

Chris Faiers talks to Open Book about the festival's history, this year's exciting line up and, of course, the festival's beloved namesake.

For more information on PurdyFest, check out our event listing.

Open Book:

What was the genesis of PurdyFest?

Chris Faiers:

In the summer 1986 poet James Deahl and professor/philosopher/author Terry Barker visited me in the village of Marmora. James and Terry had coordinated a number of symposium "controversies" on the current state of Canadian People's Poetry, that is poetry in the tradition of Milton Acorn and many others. James and I had been comrades in the Canadian Liberation Movement with Milton Acorn, while Terry has published several books on Acorn.

James and Terry suggested we hold the next "Controversy" on People's Poetry in Marmora, to broaden the geographic scope of these meetings, and to honour the legacy of Al Purdy, "The Voice of Canada", who had lived in the Quite region. The three of us wandered around the village, admiring Marmora's scenic riverfront parks and the dam. On our ramble I suggested poetry readings should be included in the controversies, and while on the islet in the dam, James remarked that this would be the perfect spot to hold a poetry reading. And the First Dam Poetry Reading was born.

James had also visited Al Purdy at his A-frame cottage in Amerliasburgh. During these visits Big Al had suggested enlarging and formalizing his famous house party poetry gatherings. James envisioned Purdy Country Literary Festivals as the fulfillment of Purdy's wish.


What makes the Quinte region unique as a literary destination?


Definitely Al and Eurithe Purdy's presence in Ameliasburgh and their above-mentioned gatherings of a generation of Canada's best known authors. Once I was given a tour of the upper floor of the Belleville Public Library, where a young Farley Mowat lived. And Susanna Moodie wrote some of her seminal works about this area, including "Life in the Clearings" about Belleville.

The northern part of the Quinte/Hastings County region is the foot of the Canadian Shield, an icon of spiritual and physical presence in Canadian art via the Group of Seven, and often a metaphor in much Canadian literature. James Deahl has written an insightful essay on this legacy. And one of the first books I read on moving here from Toronto in 1989 was Jane Urquhart's powerful tale of Irish settlers, "Away".


What are you most looking forward to at this year's festival?


The camaraderie and camping at ZenRiver Gardens. There are many poets who return to PurdyFest year after year: Jeff Seffinga, Simon De Abreu, Tai Grove, Anna Plesums, Jim Larwill, Katharine Beeman, RD Roy, Kent Bowman, Allan Briesmaster, Pearl Pirie, Paulos Ioannou, Peter Rowe - the list of regulars continues to grow. And Ottawa poet Jim Larwill always makes the dozen or so campers at ZenRiver Gardens feel immediately welcome to the rocky toenails of The Shield along the banks of the Upper Moira. This year Jim will be launching his new CD of shaman chants, and Morley Ellis will again introduce the dam readings with his guitar laying and singing. The annual Friday night potluck supper. Terry Barker and Anna Yin honouring Raymond Souster. Tai Grove MCing the Canada-Cuba Literary Alliance reading.


What is the role of the late great Al Purdy's poetry in the festival?


I'm sure Big Al's poem "The Country North of Belleville" has played a substantial role in luring PurdyFesters to the Marmora area.


What do you forsee for the future of the festival?


This will be PurdyFest #5, and this summer we'll be honouring seminal modernist poet Raymond Souster. To date about a dozen poetry collections have been launched at our fests, and the Hidden Brook Press' anthology about Purdy, "And Left a Place to Stand On", was conceived at an early fest. Dozens, more likely hundreds, of poems have been written during fests, and the friendships created have helped establish an ongoing link and bond between generations of Canadian poets. Each year a few more poets, and lovers of poetry, join to celebrate Canadian People's Poetry. Perhaps PurdyFests will continue to grow, maybe the emotional and attendance highpoint already peaked with last summer's 'love-in' for Toronto poet Ted Plantos, but no matter the future of PurdyFests, Canadian poetry will continue to grow and evolve in the grand traditions of Milton Acorn, Al Purdy, Dorothy Livesay and so many others.

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