Just a few days ago Robert Kroetsch died in the heart of the Alberta countryside he celebrated and sent up so hilariously in his fiction and poetry. It’s a huge loss to the Canadian literary world. Kroetsch was famously dubbed “Mr. Canadian Postmodern” by scholar Linda Hutcheon: she suggested he was the writer in Canada who most used the techniques and ideas of postmodern literature – namely, experiment, parody and constant questioning of the underlying values that structure our world. He bashed up the borders between prose and poetry. He threw in things that weren’t considered “literature.” He had a lot of fun with words. He had a lot of fun, period.
Responding to the nationalist trend in literature in the 1960s and 70s, Kroetsch scoffed at the idea there could be one, exemplary Canadian literature. His own work made the argument for a Canadian literature composed of many differing regional voices instead. He went to his own roots in Heisler, Alberta and, rather than looking at official histories, he examined the play of chance, accident, urge, ordinariness and ephemera that weave together lives, and families, and communities. What emerged was his famous autobiographical poem “Seed Catalogue” (1977), a new kind of “authentic” portrait of the growth of a prairie poet who, like the brome grass infesting the fields of Heisler, Alberta, seemed to thrive on “absolute neglect” – but when you looked closer, as the poem does, you saw the family lore, the tall tales, the oral traditions and bare bones of place that crafted an unmistakable, raucous and wise voice.
“Seed Catalogue” is one of Kroetsch’s real gifts to Canada, an example to all of us of the way art can be found, and made, everywhere. As a Canada Day project I think everyone in the country should read “Seed Catalogue” – preferably aloud, in a group, because there are a lot of voices in it, and there’s going to be a lot of laughing. We can all think about what kind of a poem would grow in our own place – Mississauga or Sechelt, Weyburn or Inuvik – without boundaries, or expectations of what a poem has to be. What will come up next? We can have a lot of fun with this.