Seed catalogue.

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:

                                   telephone poles

                                    grain elevators

                                    church steeples.

                                    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.

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