The sudden, shocking loss of Robert Kroetsch on June 21 to a highway car accident is still too fresh to grasp as something that really happened. It seems impossible that Alberta would lose its favorite writer, a week before his 84th birthday, to such a common accident.
As a snot-nosed kid in my first year of Creative Writing at University of Calgary, Aritha van Herk introduced our class to a special friend of hers and we spent the rest of the term memorizing sections of What the Crow Said and begging Aritha to bring him back. We, or I, anyway, didn’t know that a novel set in Western Canada was allowed to be full of so much magic. I didn’t know that an entire book of poetry could be modeled on a catalogue or ledger and somehow be hilarious, sexy, and so wise all in the same line. I have kissed lemons just to see what it's like.
For many young writers in Calgary the loss of Kroetsch feels like the loss of a grandparent. With all respect due to his real family, to whom I would express my deepest sympathy, meeting Robert Kroetsch even just once in a classroom or crowded campus pub left us with the impression of knowing him intimately. Perhaps it was his gruff, gentle sense of humour, or the way he rested his hands, fingers intertwined, thumbs twiddling, atop his proud belly as he answered our questions (questions he must have heard a thousand times) with genuine thoughtfulness.
Useless to be upset at the tragedy, but impossible not to be, I hope we can use the gravity of his loss to make him proud. Mr. Kroetsch devoted so much of his time to meeting, teaching, and inspiring young writers (he was on his way home from doing exactly that at the time of the accident) that we truly owe it to him to keep up our hard work to maintain and nurture the excellence of Canadian literature which he had such a major part in establishing.
My favorite memory of Robert Kroetsch, which pops into my head almost every day, are these five words he repeated several times while visiting our class:
“The world gives you permission.”
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