Green Books Campaign: Too Bad (Robert Kroetsch)

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on “green” books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website. TOO BAD is printed on Enviro Paper: it contains 100% post-consumer recycled fibres and is acid- and chlorine-free.

It’s not possible for me to offer an unbiased review of a Robert Kroetsch book — not only does Kroestch have a special place in my own poetic development (it was reading Seed Catalogue in first-year university that convinced me to major in English), Kroetsch has a special place in the life of young prairie poets generally (and exerts a powerful influence), is known to me personally, and has praised me publicly (the back cover of my recent book Clockfire contains a quote from Kroetsch, calling me “one of our most exciting young poets”).

Too Bad is a solid book, though it’s certainly less ambitious than his previous work. Instead of pushing on the edges of the poem, extending it over the prairie experimentally, the book finds Kroetsch in a quieter, less raucous mood. Formally, the language is quite simple and direct, although the poems are not simplistic, but spare and meditative. They develop in short, blunt statements, often affecting, sometimes comic:

Emily Carr kept a pet monkey.  That way
she showed us her wisdom (10)

It was the improvements in mirrors that improved
the portraits of self. Titian as an old man.
. . .
The glass turns your right hand into your left.
You will be judged nevertheless. (20)

Lucretius says, of course there are gods; but the gods
are as helpless as we. He doesn’t quite say it, but perhaps
we should offer them pity. Done in by creation itself. (27)

This straightforward style works best when it moves counter to the reader’s expectations of this type of poetry, as when Kroetsch invokes the conventional Canadian landscape poem and then refrains from offering one, in “Cars Whizzing By”:

This is a landscape poem. The cars
are going somewhere. You can tell
by the pulsing sound; they’re in a hurry.

You can tell by the smell of burnt gasoline.
The cars have intention. They have freedom
of will. They are going somewhere.

You can tell by the slash of headlights,
the blur of tires and licence numbers.
There are no drivers to be seen. (66)

Kroetsch’s tactic in this book of unaffected directness works less well in the more playful poems and the rhymed poems than it does in this poem about cars as landscape, or in “Anne of Green Gables, Found Poem,” which almost reads like a hypertext haiku:

“She sprang to her feet, her bright fancies
fallen into cureless ruin.”
And then he wept, softly, in the pitiless rain. (49)

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