Writing the Tides
When asked how the creation of the collection, Writing the Tides, came about, Kevin Roberts points the finger squarely at his publisher. "Ronsdale Press who did Cobalt 3 had this illusion that if we did a big collection it would sell as well as Cobalt 3. I don't think it did."
It may not have sold as many copies, but Writing the Tides is the only collection of his poetry in one single book, spanning from 1973's Cariboo Fishing Notes to newer poems. Not only does the book take us across decades, but also it takes us traveling too, from Nanaimo to Tahiti, from Australia to Nanoose Bay. The book also has a copy of "Mah Fung," a poem of his about a Chinese worker killed in a Canadian mine, that has been translated into old Mandarin. The broad geographical scope of the book is something Roberts is very aware of. "I went out to UBC and did a couple of readings and read a couple of response papers the poor kids had to write about them." He leans back and laughs. "And I think they leaned towards the international . . . as opposed to doing Canadian or Australian."
The choice of what poems to include was a difficult one. "I think I tried to pick out the ones that really worked well, that were really good poems. . . [and] also ones that represented . . ." his other works. He points out that if 20 people had to pick the poems, there would probably be 20 different anthologies produced. He laughs when asked what he would have done differently: "I would have liked to make it twice the size."
The selections of poems included are picked from eight other books. They touch on fishing, traveling across Australia, reflections and responses on Gaugain and his Tahitian adventures, and Roberts' own experiences with cancer. This creates a dynamic tone sustained throughout the entire book. When asked about this, Roberts gives this reflective response:
"You do, I think, create a different kind of line structure, a different kind of poetics for each book. Not that they're radically different, but they are different . . . I really think you do create a different pattern. W.H. Auden said something like 'All I have is a voice.' I think I'd probably say, 'All I have is a bunch of voices.'"
He leans back and laughs, and then continues:
"You can sometimes pick out an ee cummings poem . . . a Dylan Thomas poem . . . without any trouble because of the syntax, the diction, the rhythm . . . I think I have variations on a voice and in terms of your question, which is a very good question, I think you'll find there are different voices or variations on the same voice."
While Writing the Tides is a purely a collection of poetry, Roberts has published several other genres, including short fiction, a screenplay, and a novel. When asked how he would classify himself, Roberts laughs and says "Jack of all trades, master of none." He leans forward and clarifies that poetic prose "is something else I'd like to get into again, try and work that mixture between the poetic and the prose. They're distinct, but they're not distinct." Clear words from a man of many voices.