This is an enjoyable book – almost as enjoyable as many of Robert Kroetsch’s long poems. Cooley borrows some of Kroetsch’s tall-tale methods, particularly the orality of the pub (the Canadian “prairie pub” Cooley would insist) filled with Kroetsch’s “A-1 Hard Northern Bullshitters” – “bullshitters” even gets a place in the book’s index. Cooley tends to write like one of those, inflating his subject, exaggerating his diction, seldom using only one word when ten more possibly better words are available. So the book isn’t nearly as long a read as it looks – unless the reader gets hooked on the long chains of appositives. And indeed they can be entertaining.
Cooley doesn’t appear to have much affection for the work of other literary critics, however, mostly because they write, he believes, in a “fairly studied voicing that derives from print culture,” a “formal voice” that “normally would mark a statement as credible,” “forbidding paragraphs, crowded with long complex sentences, prolonged statements, and amplified arguments” (257). So in his own printed book here he tries to avoid discourses of print culture, offering instead seemingly impulsive outbursts and runaway expostulations. I write “seemingly” because of course one can never know how much conscious effort it has cost him to construct these. Pages 269-281 read like an episodic prose poem written in response to the 1974 Kroetsch essay collection Robert Kroetsch: Essays. He praises Kroestch here because he “violates the givens of discursive writing” (271), creates “a violation of traditional criticism.” “The offences include dividing the text into sections that deny any seamlessness we may prefer” (273). Meanwhile on these pages Cooley has been creating similar sectional violations.
What Cooley appears to mean by postmodernism includes a lot of poststructuralist theory – the instability of textual meaning, the impossibility of representation, the constructedness of culture, the unreliability of authorial intentionality. Yet the word “poststructuralism” is difficult to find here, and may have been expunged or avoided – despite Cooley’s citations of Barthes, Deleuze, Derrida, and Foucault. I guess it's not a word one hears in many prairie pubs.
Cooley was a colleague and buddy of Kroetsch in the English department at the University of Manitoba for many years. For this book he has clearly also spent considerable time in the Kroetsch archives at the University of Calgary, collecting numerous revealing quotations from Kroetsch notebooks and diaries. The Home Place, however, is as much an enthusiastic appreciation and recollection of Kroetsch, and defence of his commitment to the local, as it is an informed and admiring reading of his poems. The book is dedicated to his memory. Cooley himself is a prominent Canadian prairie poet, author of the highly colloquial poetry books Bloody Jack (2002), Correction Line (2008), abcdarium (2014), and Departures (2016). In 1987 he also published a study of prairie poetry titled The Vernacular Muse. One could say that he has a stake in the regional orality of Canadian prairie poetry. I think I just did.