News: Goodbye Mister Kroetsch

2011-06-22 22:03:PM ago by laurie.anne.fuhr

Canmore & after

Last week, I spent many inspiring hours with four fellow writers in the mountains. As of last evening, we are only three. I want to shut down and be alone about it, but I want to share this first. It was written as a short piece for the Alberta Writers Guild and is expanded here. It doesn't feel real to be writing on this.

As a participant in a new writers' residency at Canmore's artsPeak Festival, I had the great (and now profound) honour of keeping close company with venerable writer Robert Kroetsch and fellow emerging writers Chris Masson (a Vancouver word artist) and Dave Eso (Canmore's literary activator) for 6 days last week. In the scheme of how many other writers have known him, I have little claim to his memory, but it was among the most incredible privileges of my life to get to know Robert, and I felt I knew him well at the end of a short time span. We stayed in adjacent condos, ate meals together, and participated in the myriad literary and arts events Dave lined up for us at the festival. Events included the Migratory Words round table workshop at Georgetown Inn Tuesday evening; a high school reading for minor niners at Canmore Collegiate Wednesday; a wonderful dinner at a sponsor's cabin Thursday (where Robert kindly sat through an overlong session of amateur guitar by Dave and myself); a more intimate workshop of the three of us at a hotel rec room in Dead Man's Flats on Friday; art openings; a haiku workshop at the Civic Centre Saturday; and Sunday’s Literary Saloon with Sid Marty. At the Saloon, Robert read from Too Bad and charmed the audience in the candlelit coffeehouse of Miner's Hall, where guests from all walks, readers and otherwise, understood what they had been treated to and responded properly with a standing ovation.

I noticed much about Robert in the time we spent. What I hadn't known before last week, besides the sharpness of his wit and humour in person, was what a sweet man he was truly - his talent for revealing his heart, both subtly and generously, was every bit as notable as his literary skill. For one thing, Robert had a different smile for every deserving occasion, not just one for all seasons. He had a very expressive face, and sometimes he'd let it do the talking. It touched me the way he would turn to someone individually, even in a crowd, and say something kind and carefully considered; at every moment, he made those around him feel they were as worthwhile as they believed him to be. Awe of him as accomplished mentor became mixed with grandfather-granddaughter-type-love when Robert reached for my hand for stability on stairs, so that later I could proffer it without fear of strangeness. This made me realize his age of 83 did present itself in him somewhat, despite his appearance of good health (he was much stronger than he had been when I had seen him launch Too Bad in Calgary), and I began to pay better attention - to bring him water and be mindful of where he had set his blue cane. If he told me I was too kind, I'd tell him we must take very good care of him or Aritha Van Herk would be cross with us, and that humour lightened. If only we could have taken better care of him still.

Today's awful report of the car accident last night, first as looser details from the Edmonton Journal, then further on the Globe and Mail site, and finally in nearly too much detail on the U of A Press website, makes me sick, angry, and unbearably sad. Why such a man should have to depart painfully is beyond all reason. Robert, though I knew you so briefly, you revealed yourself to be an absolutely beautiful person, and I'm not just saying that because you're gone, the way people do. I am utterly bereft at this suddenness of passing - Robert joined Sid, Dylan, and myself just Monday morning for greasy spoon breakfast at Canmore truck stop Craig's Landing, along with Italian Ph.D student Roberta. She was interested in the idea of place and had chosen to do her thesis on Robert. Together they were going off to visit the whereabouts that held meaning in his life and work. 

Goddamn you Alberta country road for taking him after all he's done for you. 

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