Al Pittman (1940-2001)
Al Pittman, a writer and teacher, was born in St. Leonard's, Placentia Bay
in 1940 to Alphonsus and Mary (Leonard) Pittman. He left Placentia Bay at an
early age, but the traditions and stories of his birthplace continued to influence
his writing. Pittman spent his childhood in Corner Brook and completed high school
there. Later he attended Salem Teachers' College, and St. Thomas University in
New Brunswick. He taught high school in Benoit's Cove, Corner Brook, Montreal,
and on Fogo Island. Since 1973 he has taught in the English Department of Memorial
University, first at the St. John's campus and later at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College
in Corner Brook. It was also in 1973 that he, along with Clyde Rose, Tom Dawe,
Dick Buehler, and Pat Byrne, began Breakwater Books. He spent his last years as
Poet-in-Residence at Grenfell College; he died at Corner Brook in 2001.
|Al Pittman (1940-2001), n.d.
Pittman published six collections of poetry.
Reproduced by permission of Breakwater Books Ltd.,
St. John's, Newfoundland. This image may not be reproduced or used in any manner
for commercial purposes.
Pittman was a writer who demonstrated his mastery of several forms.
First and foremost he was a poet; he published six collections of poetry,
his last being Thirty for Sixty, published by Breakwater in 1999.
His poems, filled with striking images and sparkling wit, often recall
specific events and people—note the number of his poems dedicated to
particular individuals—but they are never ordinary. Some of them deal with
the tribulations of his Catholic youth (“Once When I Was Drowning”; “Education”),
while others are wry commentaries on the imponderables of existence generally
(“It Happens All The Time”; “The Border”). Still others (“Kelly at Graveside”;
“Becky's Waltz”) are celebrations of the magic flash of fire that only poetry
can capture. The same qualities mark the short stories in his collection
The Boughwolfen and Other Stories.
His two published plays, A Rope Against the Sun and West
Moon, are set in and draw heavily on the folklore of Placentia Bay.
On the surface they are concerned with resettlement and
changing social conditions in Newfoundland, but in their exploration of
issues such as life and death they address universal themes in a lyrical
manner reminiscent of the writing of Dylan Thomas. They are very popular in
Newfoundland, where successive productions have received outstanding reviews,
and they continue to receive national and international accolades.
Pittman's three collections of children's rhymes demonstrate most brilliantly
his sense of the fun to be had with language. They also have a serious side
designed to introduce children to ideas of tolerance and fair play. In each
case the books have been superbly illustrated by talented visual artists which
makes them a delight for the eye as well.
It is perhaps as a songwriter that Pittman is least well known. Some of his
songs were written to be sung by characters in his plays, but have gained lives
of their own independent of the dramatic context. Others were written to recall
some aspect of the traditional Newfoundland way of life or in response to
specific social issues. A proposed CD of his songs which is currently in
the planning stages will make all of them conveniently available for the
Among the awards and honours which Pittman received were the Stephen
Leacock Centennial Award and the Lydia Campbell Award for Writing.
© 2002, Pat Byrne