Apr 042019
 

Canadian poet Al Purdy was at the peak of his creative powers when he followed in the footsteps of his idol D. H. Lawrence and visited Lake Chapala in the late 1970s. Since 1923, many Lawrence fans had made their own pilgrimage to Chapala to see first-hand what inspired their great hero. However, Purdy is surely the most famous of all these admirers to do so. Purdy visited Lake Chapala more than once, though the precise timing of his multiple visits has proved impossible to establish with certainty.

His visits to Chapala left their mark on Purdy. In addition to a travel piece about the area, he published a hand-signed, individually-numbered, one-poem “book” entitled The D. H. Lawrence House at Chapala. This collector’s item, a single broadside in an elegant gilt-stamped folder, was published by The Paget Press in 1980, in a limited edition of 44 copies. The book includes a photograph, taken by Purdy’s wife, Eurithe, of the plumed serpent tile work above the door of the Lawrence house at Chapala.

According to David Bidini, Purdy’s travel article about Chapala was one of only three items the great poet kept in full view on the wall of his studio in Ameliasburgh, southern Ontario. The other two items were “a 1990 flyer celebrating Al Purdy Day” and “a New Canadian Library poster featuring its Famous Canadian Writer titles, many of them Purdy’s.” However, the photos of Purdy’s studio shown in the full length documentary Al Purdy was Here paint a different picture, one of a cluttered studio with photos, posters and writings vying for space on crowded walls hemmed in by overflowing bookshelves. His filing system, such as it was, comprised folders stuffed into cardboard boxes.

Statue of Purdy in Queen's Park, Toronto. Photo: Marisa Burton.

Statue of Al Purdy in Queen’s Park, Toronto. Bronze, 2008. Photo: Marisa Burton.

Purdy was a massive fan of Lawrence, and a bust of the English author had a prominent position on his desk. The English novelist was seemingly listening to every click-clack of Purdy’s typewriter and watching his every key stroke. Like his idol, Purdy had a reputation for being somewhat cantankerous and combative, especially to outsiders. Unlike the sickly Lawrence, Purdy was taller, heavier, healthier and outwardly happier. The New York Times obituary for Purdy summed him up as “a lanky writer whose brash, freewheeling ways masked a love for language”

Alfred Wellington Purdy was born on 30 December 1918 at Wooler, Ontario, and died 21 April 2000 in Victoria, British Columbia. His pathway to poetry was unconventional. He left high school after only two years (but not before selling his first poem to the high-school magazine, Spotlight, for a dollar), rode the rails during the Great Depression, and took a variety of menial jobs in British Columbia before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force (R.C.A.F.) when the second world war broke out.

Purdy married Mary Jane Eurithe Parkhurst in 1941. After six years in the R.C.A.F., Purdy and his wife settled in British Columbia. In 1956, they moved back east, first to Montreal and then to Ameliasburgh in southern Ontario. This was where Purdy honed his literary skills and became acknowledged as a “poet of the people”. Growing acclaim for his work won him several Canada Council Grants, enabling travel to write in locales ranging from British Columbia and Baffin Island (1965) to Greece (1967). In later life, in addition to visiting Mexico on several occasions, the Purdys divided their time between Ameliasburgh and Sydney (on Vancouver Island).

During his long writing career, Purdy published more than 30 books of poetry, a novel (Splinter in the Heart, 1990) and an autobiography (Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, 1993) plus dozens of radio plays, dramas and book reviews. His best known poetry collections include The Cariboo Horses, which won him a Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1965, The Stone Bird (1981), Piling Blood (1984), and The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, 1956-1986, which earned him a second Governor General’s Award in 1986. Purdy was awarded the Order of Canada in 1982 and the Order of Ontario in 1987.

In her foreword to a collection of Purdy’s poems, Margaret Atwood praised how “Purdy is always questioning, always probing, and among those things that he questions and probes are himself and his own poetic methods. In a Purdy poem, high diction can meet the scrawl on the washroom wall, and as in a collision between matter and anti-matter, both explode.” According to a much earlier CBC radio program Introducing Al Purdy (1967), “what he said startled people. His unconventional works poeticized barroom brawls, hockey players and homemade beer. Al Purdy’s work forced Canadians to re-evaluate their understanding of poetry and themselves.”

Purdy made numerous trips to Mexico between the early 1970s and the late 1980s. He was quick to admit he loved the country. Unimpressed by an editorial in the Globe and Mail to the effect that Mexicans were not especially friendly, Purdy wrote to say that it was necessary to draw a distinction between the Mexican people who were “as friendly and cordial as any you could wish to meet” and the less friendly attitudes of Mexican police and officialdom.

Purdy used his trips to Lake Chapala as part of a creative process to probe the connections between Lawrence and Chapala. In 1979, he wrote to fellow Canadian poet Earle Birney (who had composed poetry at Lake Chapala in the 1950s) describing how he had taken a look at Lawrence’s house in Chapala, “a peeling yellow-stucco two-storey place, with a large section of coloured tiles depicting a plumed serpent, the only trace of Lawrence evident” and was working on “a coupla poems… one of which might turn out to be something.”

Several of Purdy’s later poems have explicit links to Mexico, D. H. Lawrence and Chapala. These include “D. H. Lawrence at Lake Chapala,” a slightly modified version of the poem used for the single-page book The D. H. Lawrence House at Chapala, published in 1980. “D. H. Lawrence at Lake Chapala” was included in The Stone Bird (1981) and in Beyond Remembering: the collected poems of Al Purdy. The poem reveals at least as much about Purdy and his time at Lake Chapala as it does about Lawrence. The poem opens,

Try to simplify your life
you cannot
try to live a new life
and the old one complicates the new . . .

Other Purdy poems about Lawrence include “Death of DHL,” “Lawrence’s Pictures,” “I Think of John Clare” and “Lawrence to Laurence.”

In 1996, Purdy published In Mexico, a hand-printed limited edition of an 80-page poem based on his travels to Mexico with Eurithe, illustrated with 10 fabulous wood engravings by Alan H. Stein.

Purdy’s life-long love of Lawrence culminated in a joint limited edition work with Doug Beardsley entitled No One Else Is Lawrence! A Dozen of D.H. Lawrence’s Best Poems (1998).

Ameliasburgh, his home for so many years, has embraced its fame as the place where Purdy produced his finest poems. In 2001, the local library was renamed the Al Purdy Library. His name has also been given to the street that leads to the town cemetery (and his tombstone). Purdy’s A-frame, with its separate writing studio, overlooking the lake, has been restored and now operates a summer residency program for aspiring writers.

Al Purdy’s papers are divided between several university archives, with the largest collection held by Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

Acknowledgments

I am very grateful for the help kindly offered by Eurithe Purdy in clarifying the chronology of her visits to Mexico with her husband.

Sources

  • Doug Beardsley and Al Purdy (introduction and commentary). 1998. No One Else Is Lawrence! A Dozen of D.H. Lawrence’s Best Poems. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, B.C.
  • David Bidini. 2009. “Visit to poet Al Purdy’s home stirs up more than a few old ghosts.” National Post, 30 October 2009.
  • Nicholas Bradley (ed). 2014. We go far back in time: the letters of Earle Birney and Al Purdy, 1947-1987. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, B.C.
  • James Brooke. 2000. “Al Purdy, Poet, Is Dead at 81; A Renowned Voice in Canada.” New York Times, 26 April 2000.
  • Al Purdy was Here. 90-minute documentary. Available via iTunes.
  • Al Purdy. 1976. Letter to the editor, Globe and Mail, 26 April 1976, 6.
  • Al Purdy. 1980. The D. H. Lawrence house at Chapala. The Paget Press.
  • Al Purdy. 1981. The Stone Bird. McClelland and Stewart.
  • Al Purdy. 1996. In Mexico. Church Street Press, Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada.
  • Al Purdy. 2000. Beyond Remembering – The Collected Poems of Al Purdy. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, B.C. (Forewords by Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje).
  • Jeffrey Aaron Weingarten. 2013. Lyric Historiography in Canadian Modernist Poetry, 1962-1981. PhD Thesis, McGill University, 101-2.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in this series of mini-bios are welcome. Please email us or use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts.

Jul 062015
 

Peter Everwine (born in Detroit, 14 February 1930) is an American poet who spent a sabbatical year in Mexico in 1968-1969. While living in the Lake Chapala area, Everwine (who had traveled previously in Mexico) became friends with (Don) Shaw and Tom Brudenell, both then living in Jocotepec.

Of all Everwine’s poems, the one most obviously related to Lake Chapala is “The Fish/Lago Chapala”, which was published in Keeping the night: poems (Atheneum, 1977) and reprinted several years later in From the Meadow: selected and new poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004). “The Fish/Lago Chapala” opens with the following stanza:

Sunrise, the tiny
almost transparent fish of Chapala
drawn in nets.
All afternoon shining and steaming
on the roadsides, scattered
or in small mounds
like fingers of broken glass.

The poem goes on to depict a child’s funeral procession, before ending with a more abstract third section.

everwine-from-the-meadow_Everwine was raised by his Italian-speaking grandmother in western Pennsylvania. He earned his BS from Northwestern University in 1952 and served in the Army from 1952 to 1954. After military service, Everwine undertook graduate studies in English at the University of Iowa, which awarded him a PhD in 1959.

After teaching English at the University of Iowa from 1959 to 1962, he taught English and creative writing at California State University, Fresno, retiring from that post in 1992. He was a senior Fulbright lecturer in American poetry at the University of Haifa, Israel, and in 2008, was a visiting writer at Reed College, Portland.

Everwine’s poetry has appeared in The Paris Review, Antaeus, The New Yorker, and American Poetry Review, and he has published seven collections of poetry, including Collecting the Animals (1972), described by one reviewer as “calmly dazzling poems”, Keeping the Night (1977), Figures Made Visible in the Sadness of Time (2003), From the Meadow: Selected and New Poems (2004) and Listening Long and Late (2013).

His work has brought him numerous awards, including Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships; the Lamont Poetry Prize in 1972; a Horizon Award in 2008; Best American Poetry 2008; and Pushcart Prize XVII.

Everwine has also published two books of translations of Nahuatl poetry: In the House of Light (Stone Wall Press, 1969) and Working the Song Fields (2009), and is responsible for translations of two works by controversial Israeli poet Natan Zach: The Static Element (1982) and The Countries We Live In: The Selected Poems of Natan Zach 1955-1979 (2011).

Everwine’s work is included in several poetry anthologies, including The geography of home: California’s poetry of place (edited by Christopher Buckley, Gary Young for Heyday Books, 1999) and How Much Earth: The Fresno Poets (edited by M. L. Williams, Christopher Buckley and David Olivera for Heyday Books, 2001).

Sombrero Books welcomes comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Nov 132014
 

Han(n)s Otto Butterlin (or Otto Butterlin as he was usually known, at least in Mexico) was born in Cologne, Germany, 26 Dec 1900 and became an abstract and impressionist painter of some renown.

He was the oldest of the three Butterlin brothers. Otto moved with his middle brother Frederick and their parents (Johannes and Amelie) from Germany to Mexico in 1907. (Otto’s youngest brother Ernesto would be born a decade later in Guadalajara.)

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

U.S. immigration records show that Otto Butterlin (5’9″ tall with blond hair and blue eyes) was resident there between August 1924 and October 1929, though he probably made trips to visit family in Mexico during that time.

Otto made his living as a chemist and supervisor of operations in various industrial plants for at least 15 years. At the time of the 1930 Mexican census (held on 15 May), he and his wife were living in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, where he was working at the sugar refinery.

The following year, in 1931 Margaret gave birth to their daughter Rita Elaine in Los Mochis. Rita went on to marry four times. Her first marriage (1951-58) was to one of Otto’s friends – textile artist and silkscreen innovator Jim Tillett (1913-1996) – and her second (1959-1963) to Chilean film star Octavio Señoret Guevara (1924-1990). She was subsequently briefly married (1967-69) to Haskel Bratter, before falling in love with and marrying (1971-his passing) Howard Perkins Taylor (1916-1993).

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

Woodcut by Hanns Otto Butterlin, Ixtaccihuatl (1921)

While Rita was still an infant, Otto decided to formalize his permanent right to residence in Mexico and became a naturalized Mexican citizen in October 1935. Immigration records show that he continued to visit the U.S. several times a year.

It appears to be at about this time that Otto decided to spend more time on his art.

By the early 1940s, Otto Butterlin was based in Mexico City and working as an executive in the Bayer chemical company, a position which enabled him to supply several well-known artists of the time, such as A. Amador Lugo (who was epileptic) with needed medications, at a time when they were very hard to obtain.

During this period, Butterlin taught art with, or to, numerous well-known Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera, Ricardo Martinez, José Chávez Morado, Ricardo Martínez and Gunther Gerzso.

Butterlin-Hanns-Otto-The-Funeral-ca1942

Hanns Otto Butterlin. The Funeral (ca 1942)

In September 1945, Otto and his wife Peggy, together with daughter Rita, relocated to live in Ajijic. In a 1945 article, Neill James, who had arrived in Ajijic a couple of years earlier, described Otto Butterlin as a “well known expressionist and abstract painter who owns a huerta in Ajijic where he lives with his wife, Peggy, and daughter, Rita.”

Otto Butterlin: Modern Figure Study. 1949

Otto Butterlin: Modern Figure Study. 1949

The group of artists exhibiting watercolors in May 1954 in “Galería Arturo Pani D.” in Calle Niza in Mexico City includes a Butterlin (probably Otto) alongside such famous contemporary artists as Raúl Anguiano, Fererico Cantú, Leonora Carrington, Carlos Mérida, Roberto Montenegro, Juan Soriano, Rufino Tamayo and Alfredo Zalce.

Otto Butterlin died in Ajijic on 2 April 1956.

Note (April 2016): We thank the Registro Civil in Chapala which kindly emailed us a copy of the official death certificate of Otto Butterlin.

This is an outline profile. Contact us if you would like to learn more about this particular artist or have information to share.

Partial list of sources:

  • Monica Señoret (Otto Butterlin’s granddaughter), personal communications via email. April 2015.
  • María Cristina Hernández Escobar. “Gunther Gerzso, The Appearance of the Invisible”. Voices of Mexico. UNAM. n.d. [formerly at http://www.revistascisan.unam.mx/Voices/pdfs/5323.pdf]
  • Robert L. Pincus, “WPA captures the soul of a nation”, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 February 2006, page F-1.
  • Robert Hilton (ed). Who’s Who In Latin America A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Men and Women Of Latin America. Part I – Mexico. (1946)

As always, we would love to receive any comments, corrections or additional information.

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