Robert Hogg died on November 13, 2022, at the age of 80.
I began to write this in a suspended moment, having received the news that Bob was in palliative care two Thursdays ago, but with no further details, not knowing how long he had left, or if perhaps he was already gone. The news came out yesterday, Friday, November 18, that he had died the previous Sunday at the Ottawa General Hospital surrounded by his family. I know that once word of his palliative care spread, a flurry of emails went to him from all over, as his many communities tried to express to him something of his importance as a person, a poet, an editor, a scholar, a teacher. I hope that every note arrived in time, and that Bob was able to read them.
I knew Bob primarily as a poet and so will speak of him here primarily as a poet, but long before I understood his contributions to poetry in this country, he was a presence in my life through my dad, Rod Anstee. They had Kerouac and the Beat Generation in common. They travelled together to NYC in 1994 for a Beat conference at NYU, and to Montreal where Bob introduced my dad to Allen Ginsberg. I have the faintest memory of visiting an office in Dunton Tower with my dad, probably in the early 90s or late 80s, a gloriously disordered office that must have been Bob’s. I remember that among dad’s books, which I understood to be important, were Bob’s books, and so they too were important. Dad and mom spoke of Bob with such respect in our house that even as a child it carried weight for me. When I got to know Bob myself, I of course understood immediately.
His five trade books were published from 1966 to 1993, a book every 6 or 7 years. A pace influenced, I am sure, by his research, and his teaching, and his farming, but also a graceful pace. Each book in his bibliography is unique, and none overstay their welcome. They were published by Oyez, and Coach House, and Black Moss, and ECW (with an edited collection of Confederation-era poetic theory from Talon for good measure), all excellent presses that did beautiful production work on the books. The blurbs on Of Light make clear the esteem in which he was held by his fellow poets—none other than Victor Coleman, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan sing his praises.
His work appeared in New Wave Canada in 1966, the seminal anthology edited by Raymond Souster for Contact Press that established many of the primary directions of Canadian poetry in the decades that followed, and in Modern Canadian Verse in 1967, edited by A.J.M. Smith for Oxford University Press, alongside the Atwoods and Ondaatjes and McFaddens of Canadian Literature.
He was an editor at magazines TISH and MOTION. He studied at SUNY Buffalo under Charles Olson, on whom he later wrote his dissertation under Robert Creeley. He taught Literature at Carleton University for close to 40 years, while also somehow finding time to become an organic farmer and operate an organic flour mill. He retired from Carleton around the time I started there as an undergrad, and I wish that I could have sat in on one of his classes. My dad audited a Beat course he taught in the 90s, the syllabus of which is still tucked into my copy of Of Light.
The final act of his writing life was notably productive. While it has been close to thirty years since his most recent trade book, others are reportedly forthcoming (with Chax and Ekstasis). There were chapbooks—from above/ground, and battleaxe, and Apt. 9, and Trainwreck, and Hawkweed, and his own Hogwallow. He published in magazines near and far, in print and online, and offered a steady stream of brand new poems on his Facebook account.
That productivity leaves behind a wealth of other material, like this wonderful and long podcast interview conducted by one of his former students, Craig Carpenter; or this recording of a reading of Bob’s from February 1970 at Sir George Williams University in Montreal; or this video of a more recent virtual reading produced in December 2021, from deep within pandemic:
I worked with Bob on one book of his, the late chapbook Apothegms published in December 2021. Bob sent me a large file of his very smallest recent poems, from which he let me make a selection, and after only a bit of back and forth, we settled on the manuscript. He even allowed me to use graphic elements from his very first book, The Connexions (1966), on the cover and title spread. Bob told me the story of that first book, and of the hexagram, as follows:
Not sure if you know, but I threw that oracle with the I Ching in Buffalo before heading out to Berkeley in the summer of 1965 with the ms in my satchel because I was wondering if it held together sufficiently, or if I should wait before thinking it might be a “book”. The resulting hexagram, No.14, is called Ta Yu – Possession in Great Measure! That kind of resolved the issue for me, and lady luck did the rest. I met Robert Hawley, the publisher of Oyez Press, quite accidently while browsing a bookstore he owned in nearby Oakland. Realising we were there for the Berkeley Poetry Conference, he asked my friend, Marty Kriegel, if he was a poet; he said no, but my pal here is. Hawley asked if I had a ms of poems he could look at. I did. The next day we were back for an elegant lunch and I signed the contract! I even got paid $150, which would amount to about $1500 today. The only book I was ever paid for. 500 copies were printed.
Publishing Apothegms was one of the great privileges of my life, small press or otherwise. The poems are, of course, excellent, full of humour and insight and carried by his reliable poetic instincts. But it was also the experience working with Bob. He was so generous and open throughout the process, and patient with me, and I think that we made a truly great book together. I’ve put up a PDF of the whole thing for free here if you’re interested.
We also put a Wikipedia page together about him a couple years ago that was hilariously rejected the first time for plagiarism (we had “plagiarized” his own biographical note from the listing for a reading of his).
I hosted a panel about the Beats and Ottawa in 2016 at the Carleton University Art Gallery. It was Bob, Roy MacSkimming, and Rob Holton, discussing the experience of seeing Allen Ginsberg read at Carleton in the 1960s and the later influence of Beat writing on their lives and careers, all set against an exhibition of Ginsberg’s photographs. What a great night that was, with tables full of books and ephemera and posters, much of which came from Bob’s office. I also remember an earlier panel at VerseFest (maybe in 2014?), with Bob and William Hawkins, during which there was a screening of a documentary about the conference, followed by Bob and Bill reminiscing about it.
Bob was kind. That is a common thread in notes on social media in recent days, the kindness he unfailingly showed, something especially important for young poets to whom he was never anything but generous and enthusiastic. He was as excited about chapbooks as about trade books, about magazines low and high profile. He just wanted to share work, and have work shared with him. His emails were always full of news, and discussion of what he was reading, and comments on any recent poems (his, or mine, or someone else’s)
I remember being annoyed with Bob when I would ask him to sign books—he had a habit of putting the book on a table, opening the cover, and then pressing it flat with his palm, leaving a horrible crease! Now I realize that I will buy his new books and never have the pleasure of being annoyed with him for how he signs them.
Just last week, thinking of the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair, I made a small leaflet of poems for Bob. I had been planning to hand it to him at the fair (in fact we had plans for a small exchange that day). It was intended as a small gesture of thanks for publishing Apothegms with Apt. 9, and which became wholly inadequate given the news. Those poems are also in this tribute rob mclennan put together, with which I look forward to spending time.
I had, and have, such admiration for Bob’s writing life, the honesty of it, the joy of it, the commitment to poetry, the openness to it (and patience with it), the role it played in his life. I hope to emulate a small part of it all. Bob contributed a great deal as a writer, an editor, a researcher, a teacher, a poet; work that mattered, and matters, and will matter I believe.
I’ll end here, with some of my favourites of Bob’s shorter poems:
Thank you, Bob, for all of it, for your writing and for your many kindnesses. I love your books and your poems. I will return to them again and again for the rest of my life, and will tell others to do so as well.