Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Field Marks - The Poetry of Don McKay selected and with an introduction by Meira Cook (Wilfred Laurier University Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Field Marks.  The Poetry of Don McKay selected with an introduction by Meira Cook.  Laurier Poetry Series.  Wilfred Laurier University Press.  Waterloo, Ontario.  2006.

The entire Laurier Poetry Series should be on the shelves of every school library in our country. These slim volumes attempt an impossible task - to popularize poetry, and they do with such diligent elegance.

Meira Cook does Don McKay proud with her thoughtful and informative introduction to a man who
should need no introduction.  Don McKay is a benevolent Godfather to Canadian poetry.

VIA, Eastbound

To this widescreen three-day tracking shot--equal thirds
of mountain, prairie, boreal forest--
each of us will add a plot:
it is always The Past, but eased,
oiled so it glides and
whispers from its depth, often
with the voice of a lost dog.

Travelling east, we age more quickly,
running into time, which travels
west. This train wants to be evening, wants that
blue grey wash of snow and sky
eliding the horizon
fading fast.

Toiling through the mountains like the seven
thousand dwarves,
earning every upward inch,
it dreams that the hell of its gut will find release
as lightning.
Everything will lie down in its speed,
a sort of sleep.
Meanwhile each Rocky poses in a sculpted
slow tableau, easily
seducing us to grandeur and glib
notions of eternity.

By nightfall it is chuckling over prairie
running on nothing but the cold air
of Saskatchewan, its dome car
empty as the mind of Buddha.
Window turns to mirror,
a black lake faintly smoked by blowing snow.

In it we can see our ghosts, transparent
creatures of the dark, bravely reading their
reversed editions of the Calgary Herald,
riding the freezing wind like gulls.


I copied the following list of titles from Wikipedia, when I checked the shelves here I only had nine of the little rascals.  A perfect job for the new Today's book of poetry Intern, finding the rest. Look at what Mr. McKay has been up to:

Air Occupies Space (1973), Long Sault (1975),Lependu (1978), Lightning Ball Bait (1980), Birding, or Desire (1983) (nominated for a Governor General's Award), Sanding Down this Rocking Chair on a Windy Night (1987), Night Field (1991) (winner of the 1991 Governor General's Award for poetry), Apparatus (1997) (nominated for a Governor General's Award), Another Gravity (2000), (shortlisted for the 2001 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize), Varves (2003; chapbook),Camber (2004) (shortlisted for the 2005 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize), Strike/Slip (2006) (winner of the 2007 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Field Marks: The Poetry of Don McKay edited by Méira Cook (2006), Song for the Songs of Birds, audiobook (2008), Leaf to leaf-Foglio a foglia (Italian translation by Sara Fruner and Filippo Mariano), edited by Angelo Longo (2010), Paradoxides (2012).

McKay has been publishing a steady stream of  his highly reliable and influential poetry since 1973.

from Black Spruce

Along the shoreline, shelves, soft
curves as the rock
erotically enters water. Shoulder
knuckle skull hip vertebreast combined and
recombined: three
hundred million years before the animals
appeared in the Triassic
they were dreamt of in Precambrian
volcanoes. Feel the muscle
slide over bone as your crouch
beside a Harebell, think of rootlets
reaching into rock, licking its slow
fury into food,
hoisting this small blue flag.


McKay's poetry is like drinking pure spring water.  It goes to and comes from a deeper root, an essential source.

Perhaps as important as his poetry is the mentoring role McKay has quietly taken on.  You will be hard pressed to pick up a really good book of Canadian poetry today without a thank you of some kind to Mr. McKay in the authors notes.


astounded, astonied, astunned, stopped short
and turned toward stone, the moment
filling with its slow
stratified time. Standing there, your face
cratered by its gawk,
you might be the symbol signifying aeon.
What are you, empty or pregnant? Somewhere
sediments accumulate on seabeds, seabeds
rear up into mountains, ammonites
fossilize into gems. Are you thinking
or being thought? Cities
as sand dunes, epics
as e-mail. Astonished
you are famous and anonymous, the border
washed out by so soft a thing as weather. Someone
inside you steps from the forest and across the beach
toward the nameless all-dissolving ocean.


I have long admired the poetry of Don McKay.  I've met the man a couple of times and was gobsmacked at how nice he was, how down to earth.  I must confess to a man-crush.

Don McKay

Don McKay is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently Paradoxides. He has won two Governor General’s Awards for Poetry and has been shortlisted twice for the Griffin Poetry Prize, most recently for Camber: Selected Poems, which was a Globe and Mail Notable Book of the Year. McKay is also known as a poetry editor, and he has taught poetry in universities across the country.

Méira Cook was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1964, received her PhD in Canadian literature from the University of Manitoba, and has recently completed a two-year term as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia. She has published poetry, criticism, a novel and, in 2005, Writing Lovers: Reading Canadian Love Poetry by Women. She has taught creative writing in high schools, literature at university, and has worked as a freelance film and arts reviewer and editor. She lives in Winnipeg.

Poet Don McKay reads from Strike/Slip
Griffin Prize reading


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