I met Robert Kroetsch before I had read anything he'd written, so my sense of him was immediate and personal. I didn't read a lot of fiction those days. I probably first met him at one of the many literary parties in Winnipeg in the last half of the 70s. CVII, with Dorothy Livesay's lively, and forceful, presence, had just started up, and Turnstone Press was quite new too.
A lot was happening, in writing, in journals, and in book publishing. I believe the Winnipeg Writers' Workshop was already functioning, and the Manitoba Writers' Guild was not far down the road.
Kroetsch would be very much in the forefront of getting the Guild off the ground, offering his reputation, enthusiastic encouragement, and his generosity. He singled me out at the close of a literary conference at St. John's College. People were discussing the possibility of a writers' organization, and I have to admit I wasn't paying full attention at the back of the room.
I woke up real smartly when Kroetsch stood up, pointed at me, and said he thought I should be involved in getting the whole thing started. Why me? was my internal response. But, when you're singled out by Kroetsch, there's no easy way out. I don't remember if he pointed at Sandra Birdsell and Elizabeth Carriere as well, but in the end the three of us were the committee that began with research, writing a draft of a constitution, and so on. This was the late 70s.
The Seed Catalogue, which is the first thing I read by Kroetsch. This book had an enormous impact on writers, poets specifically, on the prairies. It not only revealed a prairie landscape, and culture, that hadn't been revealed quite like this before, but it also revealed a prairie mind. That was the important thing for me. Reading that mind, in that book, allowed my mind to range in a way it hadn't quite known, with a sense of how myth worked on the prairies. Till then the prairies was a place where I was born and lived; it was in my whole being, but I didn't have the angle and distance to understand the myths.
I have a fine memory that catches that period of time in Winnipeg. It was at a party in Robert Enright's apartment on the southern outskirts of Winnipeg. I watched and listened as Livesay and Kroetsch went nose to nose. Dorothy was giving Kroetsch the benefit of her rather salty review of The Studhorse Man.
She was heated, he moved between amusement and concern. Two imposing figures of the time, of that place, very different in personality and thinking, but each giving the other full attention and respect. Kroetsch was one of the most generous spirits I've met. He spoke, argued, but even more he listened, giving everyone his full attention.
Patrick Friesen (Marijke Friesen)
Patrick Friesen, a resident of Winnipeg for 30 years, now lives on Vancouver Island. He has published numerous books of poetry and has written several stage and radio plays.
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