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Poetry Canadian

The Hornbooks of Rita K

by (author) Robert Kroetsch

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2001
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2001
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2010
    List Price

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The Hornbooks of Rita K, Robert Kroetsch's first volume of new poetry in more than a decade, is a brilliant collection of mysterious fragments. Where has Rita gone and who is reconstructing her oeuvre? Written with wit and playfulness, Hornbooks is a welcome new work from one of Canada's best writers.

About the author

Robert Kroetsch was a teacher, editor and award-winning writer. Born in Heisler, Alberta, in 1927, Kroetsch grew up on his parents' farm and studied at the University of Alberta and the University of Iowa. He taught at the State University of New York, Binghamton, until the late 1970s and then returned to Canada, where he taught at the University of Calgary and the University of Manitoba from the 1970s through the 1990s. Kroetsch also spent time at the Saskatchewan Summer School of the Arts and many writer-in-residencies, where he powerfully influenced recent writing on the Canadian prairies and elsewhere. His generosity of spirit and openness to the new showed many authors new ways to pursue their own kinds of writing. In honour of both his writing and his contributions to Canadian culture in general, Kroetsch was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2004. In 2011 he received the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award. Robert Kroetsch died in a car accident outside of Edmonton, Alberta, in 2011.

Robert Kroetsch's profile page


  • Unknown, Alberta Book Awards - Nomination, Trade Book of the Year
  • Unknown, Governor General Award for Poetry - Nomination

Editorial Reviews

"The Hornbooks of Rita K is packed with ideas about the exchange processes, the sharings, that constitute writing. With a framework that allows such a variety of procedures, it is rich in ideas, modes and range. It is not at all surprising that it was nominated for the Governor General's Award." Australian Canadian Studies, Vol. 2, No.1

"Kroetsch's narratives are never traditional. In The Hornbooks of Rita K his story develops by accretion, or the slow process of sedimentation, as Raymond shuffles Rita's poems and his commentary into piles. This shuffling allows Kroetsch's playfulness to shine and offers its own occasion for wry commentary.... The Hornbooks of Rita K marks a welcome return of one of Canada's foremost poets." Richard Henry, SUNY Potsdam, World Literature Today

"Kroetsch.has created a small gem of book.. By turns reportage, recapture, rumination, imagination; by turns deeply searching, lightly whimsical, or refreshingly palpable, the two lives--shared and hidden--play out, with the matter of poetry itself seldom absent." Peter Skinner, Foreword Magazine

"Robert K offers readers a zanily brilliant and hauntingly austere series." Judith Fitzgerald, The Globe & Mail

"As novelist, poet, essayist and teacher, [Kroetsch] has introduced more of the seminal ideas that have shaped the postmodern growth of western Canadian fiction and poetry than any other writer--perhaps all other writers." Coast Reporter

"In The Hornbooks of Rita K, acclaimed poet and prose writer Robert Kroetsch explored his own alter ego, as well as the idea that regardless of where or how far we wander from our roots, a little corner of home stays with us.... It is a rare treat to encounter an author whose work exudes the confidence to use language so playfully and still tell a story. Typically, Kroetsch laughs off any notion that he is widely regarded as an icon of Canadian literature. 'That's someone else,' he says. But no one else could have written The Hornbooks of Rita K." Vern Clemence, The StarPhoenix

"Intellectually taut and supremely tricky." Shawna Lemay, The Edmonton Journal

"Robert Kroetsch should be required reading for anyone seriously interested in the art and craft of poetry. Kroetsch should also be required reading for anyone who thinks poetry is no longer relevant, usurped perhaps by something hipper like rock and roll. Robert Kroetsch is a hip and sexy writer. Don't let the term sexy throw you off: I am referring to his use of language, his delight in things delightful and in the book's characters-the bereft, lovelorn Raymond and the acerbic Rita. Nor should you let the term "hip" throw you off. Kroetsch's writing is hip because it's very smart and still immensely readable. It's so good you can hardly tell." Nancy Jo Cullen, Alberta Views March /April 2002

"This book of poetry is a trip--you do not want to miss it." Sheri-D Wilson, ARC: Canada's National Poetry Magazine, Summer 2002

"The hornbooks are fragmentary texts, including both Rita's other, often unfinished poems and Raymond's rueful reflections on Rita's life. Numbered and presented out of chronological order, they build up to a picture of a life and also a story of a relationship....Over the course of the book, this project becomes an unsettling operation that creates oddly prismatic and shimmering effects without ever leading to a sense of securely knowing what really matters." Margaret Mackey, Contemporary Canadian Adult Books with Teen Appeal

"Rita's poem and Raymond's notes and emendations, a hall of mirrors in which Kroetsch himself does and doesn't appear, are a poetic anti-treatise, a comic primer and poignant meditation on versions of authorship and meaning, on what gets in and out through the back door of intentions, on what gets left behind on longing and lines around reflected eyes. True to Kroetsch's inimitable form, The Hornbooks of Rita K resists quotation and summary....[T]he book also contributes to fascinated reading and out loud laughs..." FastForward

"The Hornbooks of Rita K is Robert Kroetsch's radical continuation of an oeuvre that comprises nine novels, several volumes of poetry (see Complete Field Notes) and numerous critical essays....For newcomers to (post)postmodern Canadian writing, the complex Hornbooks - with a modern art flap-cover and shadowy back doors preceding each section - is no easy reading, but for those risking entrance, it may well function as an instructive avant-garde poetics." British Journal of Canadian Studies

"Novelist, poet, essayist and teacher Robert Kroetsch is internationally known and justly celebrated as one of the fathers of contemporary Canadian literature....His latest volume, The Hornbooks of Rita K, continues to challenge the forms that limit expression." Coast Reporter

"Of all the writers working in Canada today, Robert Kroetsch is perhaps the one who exerts more quiet influence than any other--and on a national scale. A superb mentor, a wonderful editor, and tirelessly generous to the literary community, Robert Kroetsch is a truly outstanding model and mentor as an artist, an intellectual, and an educator. Hundreds of students and writers can attest to his influence." Aritha VanHerk, University of Calgary

"Renowned for exploring the external landscape (i.e., the prairie), Kroetsch focuses more on the internal landscape. Rita K reads more like a story with a beginning, middle and end....[I]t's Kroetsch at his finest and absolutely worth a read." Treena Kortje, Winnipeg Free Press

"Kroetsch shows how brilliantly a wily intelligence can slip the bonds of expectation to create surprising and challenging new work." Harry Vandervlist, Quill & Quire

Other titles by Robert Kroetsch


The Poetry of Robert Kroetsch

by (author) Robert Kroetsch
edited by David Eso
afterword by Aritha van Herk


An Illustrated Tribute

by (author) Robert Kroetsch
photographs by George Webber

Too Bad

Sketches Toward a Self-Portrait

by (author) Robert Kroetsch

The Man from the Creeks

by (author) Robert Kroetsch
afterword by Sherrill Grace


An Anthology of New Poetry

edited by Jon Paul Fiorentino & Robert Kroetsch

Writing the Terrain

Travelling Through Alberta with the Poets

contributions by Ian Adam, Robert Stamp, Tammy Armstrong, Margaret Avison, Douglas Barbour, John O. Barton, Doug Beardsley, Bonnie Bishop, E.D. Blodgett, Robert Boates, George Bowering, Tim Bowling, Jan Boydol, Gordon Burles, Murdoch Burnett, Anne Campbell, Weyman Chan, Leonard Cohen, Dennis Cooley, Joan Crate, Michael Cullen, Cyril Dabydeen, Lorne Daniel, Alexa DeWiel, Jason Dewinetz, ryan fitzpatrick, Cecelia Frey, Gary Geddes, Gail Ghai, Deborah Godin, Jim Green, Leslie Greentree, Vivian Hansen, Tom Henihan, Michael Henry, Walter Hildebrandt, Gerald Hill, Robert Hilles, Nancy Holmes, Richard Hornsey, Tom Howe, Aislinn Hunter, Bruce Hunter, Laurence Hutchman, Sally Ito, Pauline Johnson, Aleksei Kazuk, Robert Kroetsch, Fiona Lam, William Latta, Tim Lilburn, Alice Major, Kim Maltman, Miriam Mandel, Sid Marty, David McFadden, Barry McKinnon, Erin Michie, Deborah Miller, Anna Mioduchowska, James M. Moir, Colin Morton, Erin Moure, Charles Noble, P.K. Page, Rajinderpal Pal, Ruth Roach Pierson, Joseph Pivato, Roberta Rees, D.C. Reid, Monty Reid, R. rickey, Ken Rivard, Stephen Scobie, Allan Serafino, Joan Shillington, Greg Simison, Carol Ann Sokoloff, Karen Solie, Stephan Stephansson, Peter Stevens, Ivan Sundal, Anne Swannell, Vanna Tessier, Colleen Thibadeau, John O. Thompson, James M. Thurgood, Eva Tihanyi, Yvonne Trainer, Aritha van Herk, Rosalee van Stelten, Miriam Waddington, James Wreford Watson, Wilfred Watson, Tom Wayman, Phyllis Webb, Jon Whyte, Christine Wiesenthal, Sheri-D Wilson, Christopher Wiseman, Stacie Wolfer, Rita Wong, Richard Woollatt & Jan Zwicky

Seed Catalogue

by (author) Robert Kroetsch
illustrated by Jim Westergard

The Snowbird Poems

by (author) Robert Kroetsch

The Studhorse Man

by (author) Robert Kroetsch
introduction by Aritha van Herk

Gone Indian

by (author) Robert Kroetsch