earthweal weekly challenge: SAY THE NAMES

The village of Tulameen, British Columbia


by Al Purdy

–say the names say the names
and listen to yourself
an echo in the mountains
Tulameen Tulameen
say them like your soul 
was listening and overhearing
and you dreamed you dreamed
you were a river
Tulameen Tulameen
–not the flat borrowed imitations
of foreign names
not Briton Windsor Trenton
but names that ride the wind
Spillimacheen and Nahanni
Kleena Kleene and Horsefly
Illecillewaet and Whachamacallit
Lillooet and Kluane
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
and the whole sky falling
when the buffalo went down
say them say them remember
if you ever wander elsewhere
“the North as a deed and forever”
Kleena Kleene Nahanni
Osoyoos and Similkameen
say the names
as if they were your soul
lost among the mountains
a soul you mislaid
and found again rejoicing
Tulameen Tulameen

till the heart stops beating
                 say the names

This poem by beloved Canadian poet Al Purdy is possibly the most famous of his poems. Purdy has been affectionately dubbed Canada’s unofficial poet laureate and “The Voice of the Land”. He was a large character in the literary world, part of a group of important Canadian poets who had little formal education, whose roots were in the Canadian working-class culture. Purdy worked at odd jobs in his younger years. He spoke the language of the working man, and held a view of the Canadian reality that never left him. A strong nationalist, he was beloved for speaking in the vernacular of ordinary Canadians.

Born in the east in 1918, he lived for many years in his A-frame cabin in Ontario. He died of cancer in 2000 in Sydney, B.C.  An Officer of the Order of Canada and two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award, Al Purdy was recognized in many ways as the most distinctively Canadian poet of his generation. He produced more than 30 volumes of poetry.


In the above poem, you can hear his love of the Canadian landscape, as he repeats name after name of the places he loved so much. He wrote this poem near the end of his life. One feels the poet’s awareness of all the beauty he would be leaving behind.

By the 1960’s, Purdy was that rare bird in poetry circles, a writer able to support himself through freelance writing, poetry readings and periods as writer-in-residence at various colleges. He travelled the world and his travels were reflected in his writing.

Purdy worked in a variety of genres: radio and TV plays, book reviewing, travel writing, magazine features. He edited anthologies, particularly of younger poets, and also a collection of essays entitled The New Romans (1968), which revealed his deep Canadian nationalism. His popular autobiography in 1993 was titled Reaching for the Beaufort Sea.  But poetry was Purdy’s primary mode. He wrote daily.

Al Purdy’s cabin

The rustic A-frame house Purdy and his wife Eurithe Purdy built in 1957 on the south side of Roblin Lake, near Ameliasburgh in Prince Edward County, Ontario, was visited by a procession of Canadian literary royalty. The cabin is almost a literary personage itself. After Purdy’s death, when it seemed his wife would have to sell the cabin, friends formed the Al Purdy A-Frame Association, in an effort to raise funds to purchase and rebuild the house. Donations poured in from many writers, (Leonard Cohen donated $10,000), and the cabin now houses a writer-in-residence program.

If you would like a little peek at some of Al Purdy’s poetry, read against the background of a Canadian winter, click this link for a four-minute glimpse. Smiles.

For this week’s challenge, let’s try Saying the Names with love of the places most beloved to us. Tell us about the places you hold most dear in the corner of the planet where you live. Share them with us; let us see them through your eyes and your words.  Let’s sing their names and landscapes – the places that hold our hearts, that call to us when we are gone, that welcome us home when we return.

“Say the names…till the heart stops beating. Say the names.”

—Sherry Marr


12 thoughts on “earthweal weekly challenge: SAY THE NAMES

  1. I do love this poem, Sherry, and remember when you pointed my way to it in the past. I wrote in a bit of a hurry this morning as I’m going to be busy the rest of the day. I might return to the poem and redraft it, but it’s a good starting point. Thank you for the inspiration!


  2. I look forward to reading it, Ingrid. Good morning, poet friends. I am anticipating place names of beloved spots from the various corners where you are. Here on the West Coast we woke up to a wild thunderstorm which knocked the power out for a time……….all fresh and clean out there this morning.


  3. I LOVE your poem, Lindi. I dont mind at all revisiting older poems. I do it myself. Sometimes we have already said it as well as it can be said.

    NEWS: the injunction that allowed the police to arrest protesters at Fairy Creek HAS NOT BEEN RENEWED. The judge said that the brutality in how the police carried out the injunction did not reflect well on the court and for that reason was not being renewed. The police packed up and left. The land defenders were dancing. The trees are still not safe. But the torture has stopped, for the moment. Finally some reason and justice.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oops…sorry made a wrong entry…please delete Sherry. Late to the party this week. I live near the Warrumbungles when I am not living in Sydney. We have been in lock down for more than 3 months so cannot get back…there is a mice wasp and termite plague occuring up there plus we are going into bushfire season soon as well…Ah, life in the outback::)


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