On Friday, July 15, we held our memorial to the late Alberta writer Robert Kroestch, following memorials in Edmonton, Winnipeg (July 10) and Calgary (July 11 and 13). We had an intimate group at The Carleton Tavern of writers, readers and critics, all sharing writing and small stories, with even a piece or two submitted for the sake of those who couldn't make it, and handed out a small stack of a posthumous publication of Robert Kroestch's, Further to Our Conversation (above/ground press) and a small memorial chapbook, Dear Robert Kroetsch, (above/ground press), with poems by Rob Budde, Laurie Fuhr, myself, Christine McNair, Andy Weaver and Thomas Wharton, as well as a poem for Kroetsch by Nicole Markotić [see the piece here] produced as a broadside. Of course, the tavern glass left on a stool for him, there. An absence as a required presence.
Natalee Caple had been hoping to get to the Ottawa event, but couldn't, so send this poem in her stead:
Elegy for Robert KroetschNatalee Caple
Well fuck I can't believe you're goneYour deafening kindnessYour long seeded song
We fond moths read onWhile you steep while you sinkInto the print and the page
Cars care nothing for cultureThat last night sky you sawI hope that it was beaded with stars
As Pearl Pirie said during her reading, it was as though the group of readers were describing an elephant, each of us together somehow combined into a description of his life and his work, with readings from his poetry, fiction and non-fiction alike, with each reader adding a personal story of Kroetsch, whether about him directly, or knowing only his work. Amanda Earl spoke of giving Kroetsch a copy of her chapbook, The Sad Phoenician's Other Woman (2008) at the postmodern conference at the University of Ottawa, and how generous he was in his response. Monty Reid talked about how Kroetsch's Alberta was one of the first non-fiction titles on the province, and the original was better than the reissue. Sandra Ridley talked of spending days with Kroetsch at a writing retreat, conversation that lasted for days. Colin Morton spoke of Kroetsch's first collection of poetry, published by a man already well known as a novelist. Christine McNair told of her late uncle, the playwright Rick McNair, who adapted Kroetsch's The Words of My Roaring (1966) into a play in Calgary. A few months ago, she purchased a few of her late uncle's signed copies of Kroetsch's books from a used bookstore in Winnipeg, each with a personalized inscription. Mark Schaan gave an amazing reading of fragments of Kroetsch's essays, dipping in and through and finding a passage that reminded everyone why our venue was the perfect place to hold such a tribute.
Here is a list of the main items read:
Monty Reid, from Alberta (1968)
Amanda Earl, from The Sad Phoenician (1979)
Colin Morton, “The Stone Hammer Poem,” The Stone Hammer Poems (1975)
Christine McNair, from The Ledger (1975)
Mark Schaan, from The Lovely Treachery of Words: Essays Selected and New (1989)
Armand Garnet Ruffo, from Gone Indian (1973)
rob mclennan, from “Advice to my Friends,” Advice to my Friends (1985) + from Letters to Salonika (1983)
I also made a point of reading a couple of the poems from the new chapbook, including this one:
Dear Jeff Carpenter,
A fog of understanding engulfed the whirled. We lubricate the axle with our tears. St Teresa, please, hand me a Kleenex. Don’t fall out of bed.
It must be the large intestine. What else would play Snakes and Ladders? Accidents are, possibly, more mobile and connotative.
I’m trying to find a use for the word, kinetic. Stasis is food for cats. Punctuation is a middle-class pretension. So is a toothache. In heaven you have to sit eternally staring at a bright light, so be sure to take your dark glasses.
I heard a shadow. Who else would eat raw garlic on a slab of black bread? Your new Manifesto, like Heaven, like Love, can only exist if it does not exist.
Carbuncle tends towards two meanings. But then, who doesn’t? Earlier in the year we wintered in the tropics, only to discover that, given what we know, given what it cost us, parrots are not to be trusted, and, even if they were, we wouldn’t.
We lounge toward the infinite. Death, that necessary pest.
I once travelled halfway across Spain to see St Teresa's bent left elbow safe in a glass jar. We each write the poem as we see fit. But then, what poem isn't a relic?
Kroestsch sent the small chapbook manuscript back in January, and it didn't feel right offering it for sale so soon after he died, so I produced a run of four hundred, handing out more than half through both Calgary memorials, in Winnipeg and Edmonton (a box of such heading soon to University of Alberta Press), as well as informally at the Scream in High Park before doing the same for our event. Now that those are over, I think having a few for sale for those who might not have been able to get to a memorial are okay, isn't it?