Friday, March 11, 2011

Reader's Diary #693- Robert Kroetsch: The Hornbooks of Rita K

Robert Kroetsch's The Hornbooks of Rita K reminded me at first of Paul Hiebert's Sarah Binks. Both books are about the narrator's adoration of a fictional poet.

But whereas the novel Sarah Binks was a satirical novel, The Hornbooks of Rita K is a collection of poems about poems, metapoetry. Like Sarah Binks, it's funny at times, but for the most part it's a serious exploration of the poet/reader relationship. How well did I, as a reader, understand what Kroetsch was trying to express? And does that matter if I gleaned my own meaning? What's interesting about The Hornbooks of Rita K is that the reader becomes more of the focus than the poet, or often, even the poetry. Whereas it's presented as a man going through and cataloging the poems of his disappeared poet lover, only a few of the poems are the lover's (Rita's) poems themselves-- most are the narrator's (Raymond's). And sometimes it isn't even clear whose poem it is: Rita's? Raymond's? Robert? or dare I say it, mine?

Here's my absolute favourite from the collection:

Hornbook #1

Often in the afternoon he cries for a while. He wants a
poem that will be as accommodating as a peanut shell.
Sometimes he sits at his desk while he cries. Sometimes he
goes outside and pretends he is weeding his rock garden.
He wants a poem that will make him understand why men
plant land mines.

Sometimes he laughs in the middle of his crying. He wants
his fingers to recover their lost intelligence. He wants his
mouth to speak. He stares out through the windows at the
place where the sky should be. He wants a brick to crash
through one of the windows, a brick thrown by a poem.

- By Robert Kroetsch

Man, does he have my number. How about yours? And do we expect too much? Is the poet writing for themselves? For the reader? For both? My mind is swirling. Could be the shiraz. But more likely it's The Hornbooks of Rita K.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

The poem you chose is wonderful. It's the sort of poem that I love to read - accessible, yet thought provoking. I love the lack of pretension. Too often it feels as if the poet is deliberately trying to use the most obscure words they can imagine.

Buried In Print said...

I've only just tried my first of his works this year: intriguing to be sure!