About the Author

Robert Kroetsch

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.

Books by this Author
Alberta

Alberta

by Robert Kroetsch
photographs by Harry Savage
edited by Rudy Wiebe
edition:Paperback
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Badlands

Badlands

edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
tagged : historical
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Completed Field Notes

Completed Field Notes

The Long Poems of Robert Kroetsch
by Robert Kroetsch
introduction by Fred Wah
edition:Paperback
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Criminal Intensities Of Love As Paradise

edition:Hardcover
tagged : canadian
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Labyrinths of Voice

Labyrinths of Voice

Conversations With Robert Kroetsch
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
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Post-glacial

Post-glacial

The Poetry of Robert Kroetsch
by Robert Kroetsch
afterword by Aritha van Herk
edited by David Eso
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian, poetry
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The Lovely Treachery of Words

The Lovely Treachery of Words

Essays Selected and New
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
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The Man from the Creeks
Excerpt

We were stowaways, my mother and I. We wanted to get to the Klondike. More exactly, we wanted to get rich on gold.

Up there in the lifeboat where we were hiding we could smell the loaves of fresh bread and the pans of baking-soda biscuits, set outside the galley door to cool in time for breakfast. But, worse yet, we could almost taste the freshly baked cinnamon rolls.

Back in Seattle we’d stowed away in something of a hurry. Somehow we got into a lifeboat directly above the steamer’s galley. As a result, our diet of hardtack and equally hard cheese and stale water got to be less than exciting. Not that my mother’s salary of five dollars a week would have bought us much else.

After eight days in that lifeboat we could smell fresh food right through the canvas and wood, and that in spite of the fire bucket at our feet that was our toilet.

The real trouble, though, was my birthday. That ninth morning was the morning of my fourteenth birthday. October 24, 1897. That was three months and a week after the gold rush began.

My mother got it into her head that I deserved a birthday treat.

“Please don’t risk it,” I said. I was pleading, but I tried to sound logical.

“It’s a bit late,” she said, “to start telling me what I should risk.”

Every stampeder on the Delta Queen was so preoccupied with getting to the Klondike goldfields that my mother really believed she could crawl down from our lifeboat, swipe some cinnamon rolls and carry them back up to me as a birthday present without getting caught. To clinch her argument she pointed out that the sun wasn’t yet above the horizon.

“Okay,” I said, trying to sound conspicuously resigned. “At least don’t stop to look for birthday candles.”

The Queen was three days late on a voyage that was scheduled to take five, and still Skagway was nowhere in sight. We were somewhere in the Inside Passage, south of Skagway, north of Juneau. We knew that much. The old tub was leaking like a sieve. It was running out of coal too, but that was not the immediate problem. The problem was our having to proceed at only half-speed or sink.

The Klondike gold strike had started up such a flutter of greed that people were willing to buy tickets on anything that promised to float in a northerly direction. My mother had hoped that a four-day food supply would take us the thousand miles to Skagway, and then luck would take us up over the Coastal Range and down the Yukon River. After that all we’d have to do was figure out how to carry home our bags of gold.

Instead of taking two cinnamon rolls, my mother picked up a pan of twelve that was intended, it turned out, for the captain’s cabin.

She slid the pan under the coat she carried over her left arm. It was too chilly and too damp for anyone to be carrying a coat on one’s arm instead of wearing it. But that wasn’t the giveaway. The rolls were so fresh the smell caught the attention of one of the pastry cooks, a big, tough customer who was on his way back to the galley from the head. Most of the people on that boat, what with the water system out of commission half the time, didn’t smell like cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven.

“Up with the birds I see,” the cook said.

Little did he know what he was saying. We were up with the gulls, directly over his head.

Passengers were supposed to be asleep at that hour on the old steamer. But a lot of them had developed the habit of standing at the rail and staring toward the horizon, cursing while they did it. And some didn’t have cabins to begin with.

The cook was waiting for a response.

“Just who do you think you are, lady?”

“Don’t lady me,” my mother said. “The name is Lou.”

Just like that. That was the name she gave herself, as if she’d picked it up with the pan that was warming her forearm.

That’s what the poet called her, later, when he wrote his famous poem.

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Too Bad

Too Bad

Sketches Toward a Self-Portrait
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback eBook
tagged : canadian
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As for Me and My House
Excerpt

Saturday Evening, April 8
Philip has thrown himself across the bed and fallen asleep, his clothes on still, one of his long legs dangling to the floor. . . .

He looks old and worn-out tonight; and as I stood over him a little while ago his face brought home to me how he shrinks from another town, how tired he is, and heartsick of it all. I ran my fingers through his hair, then stooped and kissed him. Lightly, for that is of all things what I mustn’t do, let him ever suspect me of being sorry. He’s a very adult, selfsufficient man, who can’t bear to be fussed or worried over; and sometimes, broodless old woman that I am, I get impatient being just his wife, and start in trying to mother him too.

His sermon for tomorrow is spread out on the little table by the bed, the text that he always uses for his first Sunday. As For Me and My House We Will Serve the Lord. It’s a stalwart, four-square, Christian sermon. It nails his colors to the mast. It declares to the town his creed, lets them know what they may expect. The Word of God as revealed in Holy Writ — Christ Crucified — salvation through His Grace — those are the things that Philip stands for.

And as usual he’s been drawing again. I turned over the top sheet, and sure enough on the back of it there was a little Main Street sketched. It’s like all the rest, a single row of smug, false-fronted stores, a loiterer or two, in the distance the prairie again. And like all the rest there’s something about it that hurts. False fronts ought to be laughed at, never understood or pitied. They’re such outlandish things, the front of a store built up to look like a second storey. They ought always to be seen that way, pretentious, ridiculous, never as Philip sees them, stricken with a look of self-awareness and futility.

That’s Philip, though, what I must recognize and acknowledge as the artist in him. Sermon and drawing together, they’re a kind of symbol, a summing up. The smalltown preacher and the artist — what he is and what he nearly was — the failure, the compromise, the going-on — it’s all there — the discrepancy between the man and the little niche that holds him.

And that hurt too, made me slip away furtively and stand a minute looking at the dull bare walls, my shoulders drawn up round my ears to resist their cold damp stillness. And huddling there I wished for a son again, a son that I might give back a little of what I’ve taken from him, that I might at least believe I haven’t altogether wasted him, only postponed to another generation his fulfillment. A foolish, sentimental wish that I ought to have outgrown years ago — that drove me outside at last, to stand on the doorstep shivering, my lips locked, a spatter of rain in my face.

It’s an immense night out there, wheeling and windy. The lights on the street and in the houses are helpless against the black wetness, little unilluminating glints that might be painted on it. The town seems huddled together, cowering on a high, tiny perch, afraid to move lest it topple into the wind. Close to the parsonage is the church, black even against the darkness, towering ominously up through the night and merging with it. There’s a soft steady swish of rain on the roof, and a gurgle of eavestroughs running over. Above, in the high cold night, the wind goes swinging past, indifferent, liplessly mournful. It frightens me, makes me feel lost, dropped on this little perch of town and abandoned. I wish Philip would waken.

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Two Solitudes
Excerpt

One

Northwest of Montreal, through a valley always in sight of the low mountains of the Laurentian Shield, the Ottawa River flows out of Protestant Ontario into Catholic Quebec. It comes down broad and ale-coloured and joins the Saint Lawrence, the two streams embrace the pan of Montreal Island, the Ottawa merges and loses itself, and the mainstream moves northeastward a thousand miles to the sea.

Nowhere has nature wasted herself as she has here. There is enough water in the Saint Lawrence alone to irrigate half of Europe, but the river pours right out of the continent into the sea. No amount of water can irrigate stones, and most of Quebec is solid rock. It is as though millions of years back in geologic time a sword had been plunged through the rock from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes and savagely wrenched out again, and the pure water of the continental reservoir, unmuddied and almost useless to farmers, drains untouchably away. In summer the cloud packs pass over it in soft, cumulus, pacific towers, endlessly forming and dissolving to make a welter of movement about the sun. In winter when there is no storm the sky is generally empty, blue and glittering over the ice and snow, and the sun stares out of it like a cyclops’ eye.

All the narrow plain between the Saint Lawrence and the hills is worked hard. From the Ontario border down to the beginning of the estuary, the farmland runs in two delicate bands along the shores, with roads like a pair of village main streets a thousand miles long, each parallel to the river. All the good land was broken long ago, occupied and divided among seigneurs and their sons, and then among tenants and their sons. Bleak wooden fences separate each strip of farm from its neighbour, running straight as rulers set at right angles to the river to form long narrow rectangles pointing inland. The ploughed land looks like the course of a gigantic and empty steeplechase where all motion has been frozen. Every inch of it is measured, and brooded over by notaries, and blessed by priests.

You can look north across the plain from the river and see the farms between their fences tilting toward the forest, and beyond them the line of trees crawling shaggily up the slope of the hills. The forest crosses the watershed into an evergreen bush that spreads far to the north, lake-dotted and mostly unknown, until it reaches the tundra. The tundra goes to the lower straits of the Arctic Ocean. Nothing lives on it but a few prospectors and hard- rock miners and Mounted Policemen and animals and the flies that brood over the barrens in summer like haze. Winters make it a universe of snow with a terrible wind keening over it, and beyond its horizons the northern lights flare into walls of shifting electric colours that crack and roar like the gods of a dead planet talking to each other out of the dark.

But down in the angle at Montreal, on the island about which the two rivers join, there is little of this sense of new and endless space. Two old races and religions meet here and live their separate legends, side by side. If this sprawling halfcontinent has a heart, here it is. Its pulse throbs out along the rivers and railroads; slow, reluctant and rarely simple, a double beat, a self-moved reciprocation.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Writing the Terrain

Writing the Terrain

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

Post-Prairie

An Anthology of New Poetry
edition:Paperback
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