I could not possibly agree with Judith Fitzgerald more, in her Globe and Mail review of Robert Kroetsch's Too Bad she suggested that Kroetsch was inhabited by Samuel Clements, that Mark Twain was twitching away inside the skin of Kroetsch. But it must have been crowded in there because it seems to me that Kroetsch, one of our finest writers, had as many personalities in there as he decided to reveal.
We all know the novels, if you haven't read The Studhorse Man stop reading this and get to work, nine novels and fourteen volumes of poetry, and finally Too Bad, Sketches Toward a Self-Portrait.
These short poems are exactly what the titles suggests, sketches. But at the hands of a master even sketches contain all the beauty and wisdom of the world.
A tree is a kind of calendar, our teacher
explained, each ring in the wood a year,
each tree a memory of itself, a history
of the place and time of its growing.
Our teacher said we might bring
a sample to class. I was a good student.
My father's favourite tree was a Manitoba maple.
It stood at the edge of our garden.
It gave him shade on hot summer days.
What I did was, I cut down my father's
favourite tree. With a handsaw.
Then I cut off a slice from the fallen trunk.
The rings in the wood were a wonder.
I counted the rings. I went and told my father,
You are the same age as a tree.
My father said, where did you find that
slice of wood? I was proud of myself.
That tree at the edge of the garden, I said.
I wasn't lying. He could see the evidence
for himself. If he wanted to. I asked him
to help me check my counting.
A tree is a kind of calendar. I remember
my father, after a moment, managed to smile.
He taught me that love has many seasons.
It is a bit like watching a major league home run champ at batting practice. The pitcher throws to his sweet spot and the batter knocks every ball out of the park. There is a particular sound sluggers make when they connect, THUNK! For the purposes of this review, imagine that sound every time you read one of these short gems.
Robert Kroetsch has perfected his swing and pops these little numbers out of the park, one after one.
Ancestors 2: Hoofing it
It was our walking that found the world.
Bipedal us, scavenging after lion and bear.
cracking abandoned bones for marrow,
cracking abandoned skulls for brain,
seeking seeds, insects, the eggs of nesting birds--
we walked the world round. Sorry, Magellan.
We are the keepers of the travel gene.
The ice caps drained the oceans low.
We found whole continents with our feet.
Now we arrive at land's end, wondering.
There's still a chance that we might
fall off. We are at land's end.
"This book is not an autobiography. It is a gesture toward a self-portrait, which I take to be quite a different kettle of fish."
Robert Kroetsch, from the introduction
These funny poems are serious. These serious poems are funny. Take your pick. Kroetsch has always been comfortable leading by example. These effervescent poems are a joy to read.
These are not autobiographical poems but they are a substantial trail, path, conduit into the heart and mind of Robert Kroetsch, and as things turned out, an eloquent, jaunty goodbye.
Robert Kroetsch died in 2011 at the age of 83, he was killed in a car accident.
Too Bad, Sketches Toward a Self-Portrait is all mischief and mayhem and now a little melancholy with the passing of Mr. Kroetsch. Writing this fine is always a celebration.
Living Life as a Poet
I hope I can resist. It's a stupid idea.
What I was thinking was,
I could buy an estate in the Florida Keys,
mix with the Hemingway look-alikes.
I'd have to grow my beard longer.
Too bad I'm a little short of cash.
I suppose I could rent a house
somewhere on the Mexican coast.
They say the prices are right,
if you don't mind the drug wars.
I can say please in Spanish, Por favor.
Too bad my stomach can't take jalapenos.
I suppose I could borrow a tent
from one of my camping friends.
A summer on Lake Athabasca.
Not too close to the tar sands.
Commune with nature. Poach a moose.
Too bad I'm afraid of guns.
Well, finally, I suppose I could just stay put
where I am, drink coffee, rewrite this poem.
What a stupid idea. I hope I can resist.