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Mythologizing Place and Self in Poetry by Robert Kroetsch and Birk Sproxton Explicatory Essay

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Introduction

Robert Kroetsch and Birk Sproxton are famous Canadian writers. Kroetsch was born in 1927 and died in 2011. He was one of the Canadian postmodernism novelists, poets, and non-fiction writers. Having been born in Alberta, he began his academic writing at Binghamton University. On the other hand, Sproxton was also a Canadian novelist and poet who lived in Red Deer, Alberta (Kroeller 71).

He was born in 1943 in Flin Flon, Manitoba where he died in 2007. He went to study at Winnipeg before heading to Alberta. He also lectured creative writing at the Red Deer College. The two writers have some similarities in their style of writing and the context of their contents. Genealogy of place and self underpins the works of the two writers.

Robert Kroetsch: Seed Catalogue

Kroetsch poetry uses complex or jargon (Davey 3). His language is mythology of the ancient writers and poets. It can be argued that the reason why the poems of Kroetsch are mythical is his style in naming. Naming is thought to be a process that is believed to be a mythical process. Robert Kroetsch authored ‘The stone Hammer’ poems and the ‘Seed Catalogue’.

He begins the stone hammer poems by presenting twelve sections of the poems in sequence namely the “Old man stories”. In the footnote, he informs his readers that the main figure in the poem is a trickster and a teacher who lived in the legends of the Blackfoot Indians of southern Alberta. The trickster is presented as a comic sexual ancestor and a hero. The young man plays various tricks to woo the woman.

He manages to successfully woo the woman to receive sexual acts and fellatio by disguising his pennies as a berry. In fact, “He rushed his prick, like rawhide lariat” (Kroetsch 29). Therefore, he mythologizes sexual antics of the man in the story. The society goes through this behavior. It is natural, indigenous, and inevitable. The trickster is used ironically to depict the characters of the people.

On the other hand, Sproxton’s work constructs and conveys his message using simple language that helps to enhance the meaning of a message (Hill 99). Sproxton further uses various writing styles including metaphors and form that fits the time and space. On the other hand, Kroetsch is wordy. His writings lack metaphors thus making his work plain.

He is motivated and interested in writing more information that did not make sense (Calder and Wardhaugh 5). Kroetsch has done many works in poetry. Most of them revolve around his lives, as well as his hometown Hearse. Many of his poems in “The Completed Field Notes” recount how his hometown came into being in the seed catalogue. He described his town Heisler the way it grew up.

The town was in the middle of parkland and the battle river country. The prelude in the poem indicates that he is referring to this town. He says, “Once upon a time in the village of Heisler” (Kroetsch ‘Seed catalogue’ 29). He narrates the story of growing up and coming into existence of Prairie.

He says, “No trees around the house…only the wind” (Kroetsch 29). Furthermore, Kroetsch narrates how his mother died. This loss made him disillusioned. He was only thirteen years. This deprivation was a fundamental situation that symbolizes death of verbal communication. The crowd who came to give her farewell even hurt him further the way they used language in expressing the loss.

They did not care about the feelings the family was going through. He quotes,” I remember the death of my mother. I remember the wake, the crowds of people” (Kroetsch 29). “I saw the failure of language, the faltering connection between those spoken words and what it was I knew my father felt” (Kroetsch 29).

Kroetsch acknowledges through the poem that the death of his mother made him doubt the reality of life (Calder and Wardhaugh 3). He lost the feminine assurance. The relationship between him and his mother was very close. Therefore, he could not believe that actually that could have happened.

Kroetsch further uses language to demonstrate the notion of self. In his poem ‘The Ledger’ and ‘Seed Catalogue”, he uses ‘I’ more often to demonstrate the notion of Self, which is an indication of how he centers on individualism (Neuman 176). He is therefore concerned about self-following the way he refers to an individual as well as the place from where he comes.

The poem mythologizes the poet’s individual life as he digs deeper into his family history and relationships to establish the roots and the self (McKay 146). Kroetsch is concerned about himself as depicted further from his “Completed Field Notes” in the poem “How I Joined the Seal Herd” (Kroetsch 47).

In fact, he says, “I am writing this poem with my life” (Kroetsch 47). He wants the readers to understand the challenges and the absurdity in the life he went through.

Robert Kroetsch: The Ledger

The ledger is a paradox of life in which Kroetsch depicts his life. He employs the concept of double entry and the double column printing in the poem to construct and deconstruct his life. In the poem, he gives a recount of how these entries seldom balance. There are many holes as some pages are torn out either by intention or by accident. Therefore, he attempts to cover the spaces by supposing the absence of the torn parts.

For instance, he says that everything that he writes is a search “for the dead…for some pages remaining” (Kroetsch 11). Therefore, the poem is the inward journey for his past (Calder 91). Kroetsch retraces his roots by trying to put together piecemeal information from the experiences to have a complete picture of the reality. This search however does not make him find his past. He rather finds the act of finding.

Therefore, there seems to be a no answer in his quest of finding his identity. The Ledger poem triggers mixed reactions besides causing confusion in the mind of the readers. Therefore, it requires them to fill the gaps in the text intelligently to find their meaning and reality. It evokes the voices of the ancestor.

This is what Kroetsch tries to record to allow him relate the past to the present. Therefore, in this poem, the author’s memory engages itself in the quest to seek the source or the past, which he calls, “dreams of origins” (Kroetsch 11). The past is full of unambiguities that are elusive and unresolved but which the memory keeps on pondering.

Robert Kroetsch: Stone Hammer

In the poem ‘Stone Hammer’, Kroetsch seeks to forge a Canadian identity amidst regional diversity and hostile forces (Kroetsch 3). He delights himself about the prairies with passion. Kroetsch searches his roots and identity. In this poem, Kroetsch is concerned about his family. Therefore, he searches his family’s origin, the national history, and genealogical time.

The poem extends to the past generations where a hammer was found. The hammer was very important to the native people who used it to prepare pemmican in the ancient times. Kroetsch writes, “This stone becomes a hammer of stones, this maul is the color of bone…” (Kroetsch 3). The author frequently refers to his family and the past to illustrate his higher affinity and interests about the past as well as his present.

Therefore, the poem is centered on the mythology of his place of origin- Canada. He is more concerned about his place. Therefore, this captured in the poem. Prairies are depicted as the regions where cultural growth is linked to the fertility of the myth of fruition, seeding decay, and renewal. In his collection ‘Completed Field Notes’, Kroetsch presents long poems that juxtapose parts of anecdotes, memory meditations, and documents.

The vast landscape of Canada is discussed in this postmodernism expression in the poems. There are different kinds of poems such as personal poems like ‘Birthday June 23, 1983’ and ‘I Getting Old Now’ among many others. They deal with a personal history. They are linked with holistic depiction of reality. Other contrasts that existed between the poems of Kroetsch and those of Sproxton are in the construction of sentences.

Kroetsch uses jargon and a lot of repetition in his writing. Sometimes, these words and phrases do not have a concise meaning but mere empty words. On the other hand, Sproxton uses words sparingly and with a lot of selectivity to convey a message. In his poems- ‘The Ledger’ and ‘The Seed Catalogue’, Kroetsch shows an “epiphany of the problematic relationships that exist between selfhood and language” (Kroetsch 29).

This poem portrays individual self of the people. Most of his works are a reflection of personal life. For instance, in the ‘Seed Catalogue’, the author says, “ongoing poem” (Kroetsch 29) as a symbol to illustrate that life is an ongoing phenomenon. Kroetsch tries to find out the reality of life and self-using language.

In his poem ‘The Ledger’ and ‘Seed Catalogue”, he employs ‘I’ often to reveal the notion of self, which is an indication of how he centers on individualism. He is therefore concerned about self following the way he refers to an individual as well as the place from where he comes. The poem is about the poet’s individual life as he digs deeper into his family history and relationships to establish the roots and the self (McKay 146).

The author is concerned about himself as further depicted from his completed field notes in the poem “How I Joined the Seal Herd” (Kroetsch 1). In fact, he says, “I am writing this poem with my life” (Kroetsch 32). He wants the readers to understand the challenges and the absurdity in life he went through.

Sproxton: Headframe 2

The two novelists and poets writing style is shaped from the former novelists. Sproxton’s poems in the “Headframe 2” in his last sections of “The Screen Door Revisions” provide readers with an insight why he is doing what he is doing (Sproxton 125). The poet for the ‘Screen Door Revisions’ says that he found “an old photograph, pieces of story, little fragments of things, so he started digging deeper and deeper” (Sproxton 125).

In his first poem “chronicle 1”, it is clearly indicated that that the Gunslinger is a poet figure who is trying to mythologize prairie places and the self. He says, “Gunslinger on the nether cheek” (Sproxton 5).

The idea that grand narrative of historical Gunslinger is “subverted, that brave, macho, sometimes dangerous, fighter (historically) is disturbed by Prairie mosquitoes (that little fragmentary things he found), he is scratching, and starts searching, digging deeper” (Sproxton 125). Writing about them is an ultimate attempt to mythologize place and self-identity. Sproxton tries to mythologize by supplementing history into genealogy.

Autobiographical elements that Sproxton uses also show self-mythologizing. The two poets inquire more on their roots in Canada. Their writing is about genealogy of place and self. In their poems, novels, and books, they seek to know their identities better besides revealing their backgrounds to the readers.

This approach characterized a large chunk of their poems, which revealed how both did not believe in the grand narrative of history. Rather, they sort to pursue by themselves the truth about their ancestors and background. Another similarity between the authors lies in their writing styles. In most of their writings or poems, various lines are broken with others being open-ended.

They also used vernacular as a key component in their writing. For instance, in his book, ‘Collection of Headframe’, Sproxton writes the history and tales about his hometown. He writes in Heisler the hotel, “Cooley and I rode into the Battle River Valley” (Sproxton 32).

His being engraved about his home pushes him to seek more insights on where he came from. For instance, he explores the originality of the Word Flin Flon, which was the town where he was born. He says, “A skate in the corner in the main Arena Flin Flon” (Sproxton 20).

The name originated from a story of a prospector who carried a book called ‘the sunless city” written by Muddock. In the book, an adventurer by the name Josiah Flintabbatey Flotin boarded a submarine that was on its way to Lake Avernus, a bottomless sea whose depth went beyond the center of the earth. He was searching for the unknown, as symbolized by his effort of the discovery of the lake that with an unknown bottom.

Therefore, the mineworkers believed that the lake was Avernus. The author of the book seeks to unravel the hidden truths that the people did not know. Sproxton believed in towns that existed through imaginations, He says, “Towns must be imagined into existence” (Sproxton 23).

The author told stories that covered Manitoba to Alberta. Sproxton sums the history, his own life, geography, and the information handed to him through various sources through the poem in the book called Frank slide. The poem depicts the worst natural disaster that hit the Canadian history.

A mountain fell down in the town of frank Alberta in the year 1903 claiming the lives of all inhabitants, as quoted in words, “The face of the mountain falls…tumbling still across the valley over the buried village” (Sproxton 27).

Moreover, the writers write about the accounts of their fore parents where they address the issue of “family reunions and what happened over the years as well as other stories that range between facts, tall tales, and similar stories of the past” (Sproxton 25). Furthermore, the authors used similar anatomy in their writings.

They sometimes exaggerated especially when writing about philosophical issues, as evident in an interview between Christian Riegel and Sproxton in the antigonish review number 132. He contended, “Headframe is a good example of the anatomy in textual terms” (Rob 3). In the book ‘Headframe’, the author Sproxton disputes over reliance or putting of more weight on vernacular instead of language (Sproxton 7).

Addressing the issue of language therefore connects the two authors. In fact, Sproxton argues that the evident misunderstanding between him and other people is brought by the fact that they grew up with people speaking different languages and hence the confusion. His parents were from Saskatchewan farming backgrounds who spoke different languages.

Saskatchewan River and lakes are mythologized like that of Mississippi River, “river runs through Hudson bay and Rupert Land” (Sproxton 74). This is an idea of Canadian shield in a way aimed at writing an epic of a place. For instance, the book starts with a storyteller enquiring to know whether the father was settling in the lavatory.

The use of homesteading was taken to imply the application of vernacular though primarily aiming at depicting that the father had stayed there for a long period. This technique in language contextualizes the message to have the touch of lives of the ancient people or rather their originality. Furthermore, another similarity between these two authors is the usage of space in their poetry.

The two authors are considered as some of “the most important imaginative writers of the postmodern movement” (Rob 3). They transformed the way of writing. Theorists such as Jacques Derrida and Ferdinand de Saussure influenced the two poets. The former poets played a crucial role in mentoring and motivating the two writers to like and have a passion in writing.

The other similarity between these two poets is that they have contributed to the shift of writing styles among the people of Canada. New literary styles that the two writers initiated in Canadian have helped and motivated many Canadians since they revolutionized the styles of poetry to which people adhered.

Another similarity between these two authors is the way they wrote their poems. They resorted to writing long poems. These poems were open-ended implying that, they did not provide the reader with specific themes or directions to base the facts (Beran 2).

Conclusion

In conclusion, the two poets Kroetsch and Sproxton are some of the most known poets who influenced Canadian poets into their writing styles. They are acknowledged as post modernism poets who revolutionized writing styles of poems in Canada. They sort to delve their poems on their place of origin besides exploring their past to find out the truth. They therefore mythologized space and self in most of their poems.

The genealogy of prairies Canada is evident in the way they write their ideas. They have many similarities as they both based their writing on Alberta in Canada. They used vernacular languages, long poems, and wrote about their histories. On the other hand, they also had some differences especially in the away they constructed their poems and the way they used words to communicate their ideas.

However, the two poets have played a fundamental role in the poetry industry in Canada and beyond its boarders. Therefore, though the two are dead, the much they have written is enough to speak volumes to the contemporary poets. The two poets have set a good foundation that is worth emulating by any other poet whose sole agenda is to heighten his/her poetic skills.

Works Cited

Beran, Carol. “Review of out of place: The writings for Robert Kroetsch by Simona Bertacco.” Great Plains Quarterly 1.1(2004): 2-5. Print.

Calder, Alison. Who’s from the Prairie?: Some Prairie Self-representations in Popular Culture. Toward Defining the Prairies: Region, Culture, and History. Winnipeg: U. of Manitoba, 2001. Print.

Calder, Alison, and Robert Wardhaugh. When is the Prairie? introduction. History, Literature, and the Writing of the Canadian Prairies. Winnipeg: U. of Manitoba, 2001. Print.

Davey, Frank. Toward the Ends of regionalism. A Sense of Place: Re-evaluating Regionalism in Canadian and American Writing. Edmonton: U of Alberta, 1998. Print.

Hill, Gerald. “Reading in Completed Field Notes.” Textual Studies in Canada 3.1(2006): 99-110. Print.

Kroetsch, Robert. Seed Catalogue. Completed Field Notes. Edmonton: U of Alberta, 2000. Print.

Kroetsch, Robert. The Ledger, Completed Field Notes. U of Alberta, 2000. Print.

Kroeller, Eva-Marie. History and Photography in Robert Kroetsch’s Alibi. Open Letter. London: Summer/Fall, 1998. Print.

McKay, Don. At Work and Play in The Ledger. Open Letter. London: Summer/Fall, 1998. Print.

Neuman, Shirley. “Figuring the Reader, Figuring the Self in Field Notes: Double or noting.” Open Letter 8/9(1989):176-194. Print.

Rob, Mclennan. Headframe:2 by Birk Sproxton, 2006. Web.

Sproxton, Birk. Headframe 2. Canada: Turnstone Press.

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