“Of the slippery texture of history”

And now, having moved, I’ve learned how to read again, the dregs of two books the first night and half a novel on the second. My first Robert Kroetsch novel. Of the titans, the giants of post-modern prairie fiction, our new mythology, they all have quotes on the cover: Aritha van Herk, George Bowering, and Rudy Wiebe. This means that The Man From The Creeks (1998) stands among equals, is in the vein of rich tradition, and was only read by people who have been writing similar books for the last 30 years.

Until now I have only really spent time in what I see as the second tier, I guess, of Canadian prairie theorists: Sharon Butala and George Melnyk. And the first paper that I ever wrote at SFU that I would consider an actual work of scholarship, a bit of writing that did more than just beat the level boss and gain an extra life was a paper on George Melnyk and Sharon Butala: Reflections on the Urban Prairie vs. An Apprenticeship in Nature. A fight between subtitles; a ready frame. And that George Melnyk book, New Moon at Batoche, became a favourite in 2004 and read just as well in 2008 and really taught me more about history than any textbook I’ve ever been taught. And there I was, last summer, learning Memoir in an official capacity from Sharon Butala.

I’ve read a novel by Aritha van Herk and I’ve read two novels each by Rudy Wiebe and George Bowering but Robert Kroetsch became someone who books I would buy and never read. But now I’m just running right through The Man From The Creeks. A coming-of-age in the Gold Rush, Skagway to Dawson City, and a pre-creation story for one of our foundation myths of the Great White North: The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service. The Man From The Creeks goes back for 300 pages into the poem and comes out with something kinda like George Bowering, Shoot!, or at least what I remember Shoot! as being, nine years after I read the stupid thing. A great big fun fast story in the Wild West that manages to be a great big wink from a mad historical scientist. And ultimately a very small and concise story about people set against something that still doesn’t make any sense.

Now on the third night I am learning how write again. From reading to writing; at home on Fraser Street.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to ““Of the slippery texture of history”

  1. reneethewriter

    Ah Melnyk! Thanks for that. Ah Kroetsch – believe it or not I once studied with him at UBC. Once I could remember much more of his work. I think he wrote some great poetry way back when – do you know of it? “from reading to writing; at home on Fraser Street.” Nice.

  2. Yes, a poet but I assume now that these guys are all actually poets: Kroetsch, Melnyk, Bowering too? Just a little older than Brian Fawcett, but old enough that he could frame what he was doing in opposition even though it’s all so much post-war white-guy angst today. Would be interested in your opinion of several Brian Fawcett essays about poetry and why he stopped writing it in the early 1980s.

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