Incendiary Landscapes

It was a sideways cocktail party
on the bald Prairie
and we were many.

Then Kroetsch was there, too
but nothing like a ghost
and it was sunset.

Did you ever see anything lovelier?
one of the women asked the gathering
though mostly him.

A few vistas stepped forward
from our sliding memory
but nothing stuck.

Kroetsch walked a little way off
to mull it over alone, we thought
but I’ll be damned if he didn’t
improve the view by half
with his silhouette
grown small and black
against the high line of fire.

The sun descended
into clouds and bobbed
before the whole sky broke with fever.

From the shift of his body’s weight
from one shoe to the other
Kroetsch seemed to say:
Alright time, you old codger
you old cog
with your star henchman
go on, ravisher, and take us!

The sol dropped a half-step behind the line
not at his word, surely
though the darkness seemed to spread
from the returning shadow
which spoke, presently, taking up a cup:

How any view survives
the drowning tide of human departure
is a little beyond me.

And he was among those
last to leave the party.

Questions and Answers

How/where do you find inspiration today?

I find inspiration all too easy to come by. In details of my urban landscape, the culture swirling around me and shifting weather patterns, bits of conversation overheard and misheard, reflection on the habits of the human animal, inner-workings of my own relationships, travels, memories, the meaning the peeks from behind all of these and also the work of other poets—the seeds of new poems prove inescapable. The challenge lies in capturing inspiration when it strikes. I must have a notebook on hand and a pen in my holster. Poetic thoughts are of an ephemeral variety and I find that if I do not capture a sense, a line, a word of my vision immediately, it fleets, flakes and fades no matter how impressed I feel by the occurrence in that instant. I try to capture such moments loosely and save my strained editorial eye for the revision process. It is important to be free and open when capturing or creating raw material that may, or may not, become, in time, a poem.

Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. books, films, art, websites, text, etc.)?

I would recommend repeat viewings of the many National Film Board documentaries on Canadian writers (bissett, Page, Lowry, Nowlan, Suknaski, Atwood, Purdy, Layton and others) found at Those films provide a lively introduction to the conversation you wish to join. Scan the shelves at your local or university library (even if you’re not a student). I’ve also successfully reached out to poets I most admire and those boldnesses sparked, to my surprise and pleasure, correspondences and friendships with important poets. This is a small country and a small literary scene—those figures are closer than you imagine. And those connections have been more vital and satisfying than any publication or accolade.

What inspired or motivated you to write “Incendiary Landscape”? How does/doesn’t the poem reflect this inspiration or motivation?

A small number of my poems draw from experiences of my dreamscape (but that source recurs with a subtle persistence) and this is one. Robert Kroetsch is one of the poets I formed a friendship with, despite the gap in our ages and statures. After his death, I would often dream of Kroetsch, walk and speak with him. One such encounter woke me with an urgency, an urge to capture the exchange. The prairie landscape we walked through, in that dream, was a nightscape but I employed sunset, instead, to capture my sense of Kroetsch’s bodily death, disappearance and to represent the ascendance or dropping away of his spirit.


This poem “Incendiary Landscapes” originally appeared in Contested Migrations. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 219 (Winter 2013): 37-38.

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