Nothing pleases a perfect wife, nothing. I told that to the blizzard.
The blizzard shrieked with laughter. Since then I’ve travelled often
to strange places, rain forests and tropical islands. I’m planning a
collection of turtle eggs.
Robert Kroetsch, Excerpts from the Real World
A writer friend responds in an email, recommending I step back from wedding plans, and admit that the day is about her, and not us. He was much happier when he finally realized the same, and let his beloved proceed as she wished. Perhaps this is cynical, perhaps this is simply the difference between his wife and my soon-to-be, not in the least bit worried about either of us pulling too far in either direction, or tear at the other. How does one proceed? As Alberta writer Robert Kroetsch once famously asked, How do you write, how do you make love in a new country? If, as Saskatchewan poet John Newlove wrote, the past is a foreign country, then the future as well, a fresh space in which to spread out, take root.
Kroetsch says much about desire, but little about marriage. What is this, I wonder. In the title sequence of Advice to My Friends (Stoddart, 1985), he slips two in the middle, poems composed around and about a wedding reception. “At the wedding reception, such as it is, / How Morenz is asked to say a few words.” A wedding poem, wedding song, interrupted enough by the narrator and the subsequent action that a second poem is required. An epithalamium interrupted by a (Greek) chorus of mischievous ghazals. Just how much might Kroetsch have known about the Greeks? Quite a lot, I’d suspect. Never lonesome, in detail.
8. Wedding Dance, Country-Style
This will not be, Mr. Ondaatje explains,
your standard epithalamium. He is taking
pictures, both in colour and black and white.
The bride and the bridegroom are dancing.
Actually, everyone is dancing. George
(which George?) is dancing, with Gertrude Stein.
All of Victoria, later, expresses embarrassment,
but the dance, the dance is full of marvels.
Roy Kiyooka arrives by balloon. He drops in
for a polka. He is the only person who brings
an escape plan as a gift. It is a collage
of 1,243 pages, in code, with maps and diagrams,
all of which Mr. Ondaatje photographs
as part of the epithalamium, and the ecstatic
document, in arrest, has about it the air
of a painting of a forest exploding into light,
or of a hockey game, under the lights, exploding.
But the dance, the dance is the first decoding.
Consider his volume of poem/journal entries, Letters to Salonika (Grand Union Press, 1983), written ostensibly as letter-poems to his then-wife, Smaro Kamboureli, during the period she was in Greece composing her own journal, in the second person (Longspoon, 1985). Kamboureli wrote a book about returning to Greece, and Kroetsch wrote a book about Smaro, returning to Greece. Hers less a journal of longing than a book of exploration, retracing her steps and working out what she’d learned. “December 5, 1983. Winnipeg is my home. I am writing my dissertation on the Canadian long poem. I am married to a Canadian. I dream in English. I write in English. And I’ve become a landed immigrant today. A status that legalizes my feelings about this city, about Canada, that allows me to live permanently where I already feel at home. But this permanence is provisional. I inhabit a plain that has many edges.” Hers is a book that edges, as his does, toward their own wedding, his second. Compare what Kroetsch writes in his, “When you get to Sifnos, take another look at the house / you mentioned. The one by the chapel. The one that you / said we might be able to rent a year from now.” to a section near the end of Kamboureli’s poem-journal:
June 6, 1982
Our plans for our Greek trip get more and more complicated. Now we’ve added to them the complications of a wedding between a Greek and a Canadian. We’re all frantic, but the wedding, of course, may never occur since none of the local authorities can provide us with the papers that the Greek church demands before it issues the wedding license. In the meantime, father has sent me the banns already printed in Macedonia. And mother has included in his letter the design of the wedding dress that my godmother has offered to make for me.
I phoned them: hold your horses.
I wonder, whose horses were whom? If these the same horses Kroetsch wrote about crossing the High Level Bridge in TheStudhorse Man (Simon and Schuster, 1969)? Most likely, not. In one of his later collections, The Hornbooks of Rita K (University of Alberta Press, 2001), he wrote his male narrator in love with a disappeared poet, the unpublished Rita Kleinhart. Unfulfilled, a desire that could never achieve, be disrupted, interrupted, or even deflected. It remains what it is, the perfect image of desire. It remains a love held in amber.
It is so much easier to love someone who is gone, and can never change. How immature, archivist. Perhaps I read too much into? Perhaps this is unfair, on my part. He writes:
We write as a way of inviting love. Each text is a request that says, please, love me a little.
Rita Kleinhart was an admirer of snow. Snow, she remarks, is the caress of impossible meanings. Snow is closure without ending. Snow is the veil that lets us see the shape of the dream.
Forever returning to the beginning, begin again, was Kroetsch less confident once he approached those inevitable ends? In the collection that follows, The Snowbird Poems (University of Alberta Press, 2004), another male narrator, Snowbird, writes out conversation to and with a woman, but this time a travel companion, Henrietta. They write out their names on the beach, in the sand. Writing footprints. They move as a marriage does, would.