Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Poetry Month, Day 15, Robert Kroetsch, "Meditation on Tom Thomson"

Something Canadian today, I think. I opened my book of Canadian poets at random to Robert Kroetsch - and then flipped around a bit, because Kroetsch specialized in massively long poems that wander all over the place, very psychedelic and thinky. Too much to type out, for damn sure. So, here's a shorter piece. Note the line breaks, reminiscent of old English poetry.

Meditation on Tom Thomson

Tom Thomson I love you    therefore I apologize
for what I must say    but I must say
damn your jack pines    they are beautiful

I love your bent trees   and I love your ice
in spring    candled into its green rot
and I love the way you drowned    all alone

with your canoe   and our not even knowing
the time of day   and the grave mystery
of your genius   interrupted   is our story

and art, man, art   is the essential
luxury   the imperative QUESTION(?)
the re-sounding say    of the night's loon

and holy shit mother   the muskeg snatch
of the old north   the bait that caught
the fishing father   into his own feast

the swimming art-man   who did not drown
in the lake   in his pictures
who drowned   for murder of grief or

the weave of the water   would not hold
the shoulders of the sky   were deep
the maelstrom would not spin   to spit him

free, daddy, FREE FREE FREE   (but I must say
DAMN your jack pines)   for the whorl
of the whirlpool breaks us   one by one

we stretch and tear   the joints
opening like curtains   on a cool
Algonquin morning   onto a red sun

or down onto the black bottom   or far
(the grammar of our days   is ill defined)
or rapt in the root and fire   of that wind

bent forest   (about your pine trees
this evening   one of them moved
across my wall)   daring the light

daring the bright and lover's leap   across
the impassible gap   the uncertain
principle of time and space   straight down

he dove    and he would seize unearthly
shades   and he would seize the drowned land
the pictures from the pool   the pool's picture

and the gods cried   Tom, Tom, you asshole
let go   and you had found their secret
and would not ever   let go   they cry


Kroetsch actively pursued an effort to unpack poetry, to dismantle it and re-invent both myths and the way that we record them. He was opposed to the simple completeness of lyric poetry, and so his work rambles all over, and refuses to come to a point or a conclusion. It's anti-lyric poetry, but still really strongly structured. It's actually pretty cool, from a poetic point of view.

Tom Thompson was a Canadian painter who influenced the Group of Seven (Canadian painters who painted nature scenes in a distinctive style), but he died before the group was founded. As Kroetsch mentions, Thompson was famous for his paintings of jack pines. He died on a canoe trip in 1917 in Algonquin park, and there is considerable speculation about how he died - murder? accident? suicide? - with no conclusive answers forthcoming or even really possible.

Here is a pair of Thomson jack pine pictures: