Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Robert Kroetsch: 1927-2011

I heard today that Robert Kroetsch died in a car accident. And, after watching the news 'trend' on Facebook for a while, I logged out and started to think on how he'd influenced me as a reader and writer...

I mean, I've lived inside his books for so many years now: The Studhorse Man. The Puppeteer. Badlands. Seed Catalogue, and, most recently, his Too Bad: Sketches Towards a Self-Portrait.

Kroetsch's writing combined high and low registers, caroused and grieved, whispered and screeched. And I got it. I got all of it, or enough that I always felt hollowed out but also filled after reading his poetry and fiction.

But I never studied with him, though I tried to talk my way into Kroetsch's novel colloquium at Sage Hill when I was in my mid-twenties.

It didn't work: Steven Ross Smith was gracious but it was clear to both of us that I didn't have the credits or the experience.

Another time, I wrote him an earnest letter, asking if he'd be willing to apply to the MWG's Emerging Writer Mentorship Program as a mentor and then, maybe, pick my submission.

But he was just on the cusp of retirement and wrote back to say that couldn't take on another responsibility.

But over the years, I got to know Kroetsch well enough to say hi, even if I was just one of the many well-wishers that thronged him at readings and conferences.

A year and a half ago, when I got the (dreaded) author questionnaire that preceded Hump's publication and had to think about who "would speak for my work," it took me a long long time to come up with a shortlist.

But Kroetsch was the first name on that list.

So I tentatively contacted Kroetsch. And it took him less than a week after my ms. made its way to Leduc, Alberta, where he was living, to get back to me with this:

“Ariel Gordon is superbly, supremely, a poet of the body. She finds words for the physicality of the forest, of the garden, of pregnancy. Hump speaks the erotics of being alive and being in love with being alive.” - Robert Kroetsch

And then I found out that my publisher disliked blurbs, so it wouldn't be going on the back cover. And then I found out that he'd also blurbed several friends with new books, including Jonathan Ball & Tracy Hamon.

But I didn't care one whit. Because even the idea of Robert Kroetsch, ROBERT KROETSCH, reading my poetry, was enough to make me weep. And twenty years from now, that'll be all that matters.

What I'll remember most was my last exchange with Kroetsch, back in February.
Dear Ariel,

I reread your poems this grey Alberta winter morning and marveled once again at your ability to translate the experience of our senses into sensual language. What a gift!

And I could somehow see him as he was writing the email, the light, his hands on the keys, and it made me so very happy.

I'd been thinking about Kroetsch of late, how I should send him an email and tell him again how honoured I was to have him read my work. And maybe, if I was very lucky, to chat with him a bit about writing and the writing life.

But Robert Kroetsch died yesterday on the way home from a reading in Canmore. And I'm just so sad, even though he was very nearly 84, had lived a good long life and was still writing (!).

My condolences go out to Kroetsch's family, to his many friends and colleagues, his many ex-wives and ex-girlfriends and ex-lovers, but, mostly, to his readers.

Here's to you, Robert. Thanks again for everygoddamnthing.


Polly said...

I'm so glad you have these moments and words to remember him by, and to inspire and encourage you on grey writing days. And I'm glad I had a chance to hear him read over the years.

Now it is your turn to carry on The Work. I know you will, and he clearly knew you would. What a gift to have from him.

Ariel Gordon said...

Thanks, P. Though I hesitate to put myself in the same category or lineage, I will try to shoulder some of The Work.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Very nice, A.

The Work. I love that!