Seed Catalogue – Robert Kroetsch – 1986, Turnstone Press, Winnipeg
I first read some of Robert Kroetsch’s short poems in a Canlit class way back in university, and I remember being so impressed with his voice that I made the note to “read more, soon.” But other books and poems have occupied my time since then, and Kroetsch’s work has been on the backburner of my to-read list, until now.
I thought I’d start with Seed Catalogue, part of Kroetsch’s “lifelong poem” (which ended, sadly, with his sudden death last June). Kroetsch was a prairie poet and this semi-autobiographical piece is framed around excerpts from a vintage seed catalogue, which really appeals to me. Born in the farming community of Heisler, Alberta, Kroetsch speculates on what it is to live in a “prairie town” – and considers the intransience and the stereotypes that comprise it. The town may not last forever, but the stories within it do:
How do you grow a prairie town?
The gopher was the model.
Stand up straight:
Vanish, suddenly: the
gopher was the model.
How do you grow a past/
to live in
Between practical reminiscences of childhood (this isn’t gooey sentimental stuff) and occasionally raunchy and downright hilarious observations of adult experiences, Kroetsch wonders how a poet can come off the farm and emerge, triumphant, with a (unique) voice:
How do you grow a poet?
This is a prairie road.
This road is the shortest distance
between nowhere and nowhere.
This road is a poem.
The question is repeated throughout Seed Catalogue like the chorus to a song, and Kroetsch carefully crafts his answers. You can’t help but wonder if it’s all a sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge acknowledgement on his part: he definitely knew how to grow a poet.