Friday, November 04, 2011

Robert Kroetsch, Writer’s Block


There’s only one month of the year
when it doesn’t snow in Alberta.
Some years it snows that month too.
When Alberta writer Robert Kroetsch died in a car accident this past June, mere days before his eighty-fourth birthday, he left behind not only an impressive and ongoing legacy tragically cut short, but a new publication as well, the small chapbook Writer’s Block (Greenboathouse Press, 2011). Signed and numbered in an edition of fifty-five copies, “printed on a Verdercook 15-21” on “Zerkall Book Wove with a wrapper of Japanese Cedar Bark,” the twelve-part sequence was about to be released when Kroetsch died, according to publisher Jason Dewinetz, but held back for later on in the year, out of respect.

The poet meant to show off
his new underwear.
He forgot he wasn’t wearing any.
I’ve been intrigued with the small orphans that Kroetsch had been releasing over the past few years, poems that have emerged in chapbooks from publishers in various parts of the country, none of which appeared in his Too Bad: Sketches Toward a Self-Portrait (Edmonton AB: University of Alberta Press, 2010), a collection that appeared to not have a single previous publication. Some of Kroetsch’s small missives have included: The Lost Narrative of Mrs. David Thompson (Edited by Robert Kroetsch) (2009) and Ten Simple Questions for David Thompson (Recorded by Robert Kroetsch) (2009), produced through Nicole Markotić’s Windsor, Ontario Wrinkle Press; All the Dead Husbands (2010) produced through Edmonton’s monthly Olive Reading Series; and Further to Our Conversation (2011), produced earlier this year through my own above/ground press [click on the Robert Kroetsch tag underneath this post to see my reviews of such, my Kroetsch obit, etcetera]. Did Kroetsch consider these all part of an eventual single book-length project? The two chapbooks through Wrinkle Press feel different than these other small projects, and have made me wish for itself to be its own book-length work; with his death, are we simply left with this, a collection of unfinished works that might, hopefully, appear at some point in trade edition?

Beset by a storm of Cupid’s darts,
they clung to each other’s private parts.
The small sequence here feels very much in the vein of other of Kroetsch’s poems over years, weaving meditations through Alberta geography, bawdy humour, revision and even referencing his oft-repeated mantra that he wasn’t writing poems, or wouldn’t write poems anymore, usually a suggestion he was about to begin. Still, there is something dark and ominous about the poem’s final stanza. Something we perhaps don’t want to think about.

We had thought we might have an adventure.
Black ice, they called it. Then a skiff of snow.
The way is old and lined with corpses.
With Robert Kroetsch’s death, Canadian literature and Canadian writers and readers have lost something great, but at least we still have this, some new poems to read. It might not be much, but for now, it is all we have. And it is enough.

1 comment:

Cathie Crooks said...

This leaves me missing Robert yet again. Thank you to rob and now to Greeenboathouse Press for bringing us Robert's words. Pithy, earthy, and brief; leaving us wishing for more.