Thursday 2 October 2008

The Conservative Party vs Al Purdy, 1981

It's nothing new, and it’s not just our Karl-Rove-esque, culture-bashing Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canadian Conservative politicians have had it in for the arts for a long time, as poet Al Purdy found out way back in 1981. Below is an excerpt from Purdy’s memoir Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, published by Harbour Publishing in 1993. Purdy had been to the Galapagos Islands and was charmed by the wildlife enough to write some light-hearted poems about them. Needless to say, the Tories weren't impressed.
Among the poems I wrote in tortoise islands is one about the blue-footed booby, which is perhaps the most slow-witted creature there. It’s not a completely serious poem, which I thought might serve to lighten my customary philosophic solemnity. When “Birdwatching at the Equator” was published in a magazine, a Conservative Member of Parliament noticed it and read it aloud to the Liberal government in the House of Commons in Ottawa. His object was undoubtedly to embarrass the Liberals, to say, in effect: “This is the kind of shit you people encourage through Canada Council grants?”
I was completely unaware of this cultural occasion in the legislative chambers. Its later repercussions only came as a surprise to me.

And here is the offending poem. I just love the ending.

Birdwatching at the Equator

The blue-footed booby
stands on tropic island
in the Galapagos Group
stands all day long
shading her eggs from the sun
also protecting her blue feet
from too much ultraviolet
Sometimes the male booby
flaps his wings and dances
to entertain his mate
pointing his toes upward
so they can discuss blueness
which seems to them very beautiful
Their only real enemy
is the piratical frigate bird
floating on great black wings
above the mile-long island
Sometimes the frigate bird
robs them of their fish
whereupon the booby
is wont to say “Friggit”
and catches some more
When night comes all the boobies
sit down at once as if
God has given them a signal
or else one booby says
to the rest “Let’s flop boys”
and they do

The booby’s own capsule
comment about evolution:
if God won’t do it for you
do it yourself:
stand up
sit down
make love
have some babies
catch fish
dance sometimes
admire your feet
what else is there?

--Al Purdy, 1981. Used with the permission of Harbour Publishing. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Remi said...

Now there's a campaign slogan - The Conservative Party: Screwing Artists Since 1981.

At least it's more honest than the creepy "vote for me because I jam with my son" commercials.