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About the Author

Don McKay

Don McKay has published numerous books of poetry, including Birding, or desire (1983), Night Field (1991), Apparatus (1997), Another Gravity (2000), Strike/Slip (2006), The Muskwa Assemblage (2008), and Paradoxides (2012). He won the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2007, two Governor General's Awards for Poetry (in 1991 and 2000), a National Magazine Award in 1991, the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Poetry (in 1983 and 2013), and the E.J. Pratt Poetry Award in 2013. His books have also appeared on the shortlists for the Governor General's Award for Non-fiction (in 2002), the Governor General's Award for Poetry (in 1983 and 1997), and the Griffin Poetry Prize (in 2001 and 2005). He was named to the Order of Canada in 2009

McKay is also a respected editor, teacher, and scholar. He has taught at the University of Western Ontario, the University of New Brunswick, the Banff Centre for the Arts, and the Sage Hill Writing Experience. He has served as editor and co-publisher of Brick Books since 1975, and from 1991 to 1996, he edited The Fiddlehead. He presently lives in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Books by this Author
All New Animal Acts

All New Animal Acts

Essays, Stretchers, Poems
tagged : poetry
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Angular Unconformity

Angular Unconformity

Collected Poems 1970-2014
tagged : canadian
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Bird Construction Co.

Bird Construction Co.

Poetry from the Banff Writing Studio 2008
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Leaving home is the beginning of resemblance.
— David Seymour

On leaving, you circulate among the things you own
to say farewell, properly,
knowing they will not cease to exist
after your departure, but go,
slowly, each in its own way,
So long and thanks, with one last chop, tap,
twiddle. It won’t work just to
flip them into negatives — minus T-shirt, minus Roger
Tory Peterson both east and west —
nor to convert them into liquid
assets. This is no yard sale, this is loss,
whose interior is larger than its shell, the way you wish
home was. Do not dig the dog’s bones up
nor the rosebush by the porch.
Choose a few companions of no weight —
a crow feather found in the parking lot,
the strawsmell of her hair, a few
books of the dead, 1000
Best Loved Puns. And leave. There is a loneliness
which must be entered rather than resolved, the moon’s
pull on the roof which made those asphalt shingles
shine. A time for this,
a time for that, a time to let them both escape into
whateverness, a time to cast
away stones, to stop
building and remembering and building artful
monuments upon the memories.
To leave.
To step off into darker darkness,
that no moon we call new.

A Word about the Poem by Don McKay
This poem was originally published in my book Another Gravity. The poems in that collection are taken up with three large subjects — home, moon, and flight — each of which exerts a gravitational pull on the others. “On Leaving” investigates departure as a human urge on its own, a complement to our vaunted capacity to build dwellings and histories. It suspects that the startling, oblique insights of metaphor stem from that urge, rather than from our primary, perpendicular constructions — which Wallace Stevens, in a poem on metaphor, called the “hammer of red and blue.” I wanted to find words to probe the power of loss implicit in leaving, while doing justice to its attendant pain.

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Field Marks

Field Marks

The Poetry of Don McKay
by Don McKay
edited by Meira Cook
also available: eBook
tagged : canadian, literary
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Field Marks: by Don McKay

just like you and me but

cageless, likes fresh air and

wants to be his longing.

wears extra eyes around his neck, his mind

pokes out his ears the way an Irish Setter's nose

pokes out a station-wagon window.

His heart is suet. He would be a bird book full of

lavish illustrations with a text of metaphor.

He would know but still

be slippery in time. He would eat crow. He becomes

hyperbole, an egghead who spends days attempting to compare the

shape and texture of her thigh to a snowy egret's neck, elegant

and all too seldom seen in Southern Ontario.

He utters absolutes he instantly forgets. Because

the swallow is intention in a fluid state it is

impossible for it to “miss. “ On the other

hand a swallow's evening has been usefully compared

to a book comprised entirely of errata slips.

He wings it.

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Open Wide a Wilderness

The Hornéd Larks in Winter by Ethelwyn Wetherald

Where the tufted red-root

Rises from the snow,

See the flock of hornéd larks

Crouching low,

Beating, shaking all the seeds

From the dry pods of the weeds,

Calling from the knolls and furrows

As they go.

Lovers of the plowed field

And the open sun,

Pacing thoughtfully the ruts

One by one.

On each delicate small head

Black and white are closely wed,

And the horn-like tufts are lowered

When they run.

Serious little fellows!

Who would e’er surmise

That such grave field labourers

Could arise,

Shaking from their yellow throats

Ravishing cloud-surrounded notes,

Flinging up the joy of springtime

To the skies.


Black Bear by Douglas LePan

Sweet-mouth, honey-paws, hairy one!

you don't prowl much in the history books

but you sure figure when choker-men, donkey-men, shanty-men


or pulp-savages, or top-riggers.

“I've seen me go up a tree so fast with one of them after me

I only had time to loosen my belt and give him my pants

or I'd been done for. ”

”When I came into the cook-house I knew there was something there.

And was there ever! A great big black bear.

He chased me round and round the table till I hauled off and hit the

dinner gong.

That shook him! He was out the door like a bat out of hell. ”

If only you could hear us talk, you would know how we love you

sweet-mouth, honey-paws, hairy one!

Cousin, comrade, and jester,

so like us as you pad along jocularly

looking for garbage and honey, and not leaving much trace,

dozing off (for a whole season--as who wouldn't want to?)

then when you waken, perhaps a little too devil-may-care,

not knowing your own strength, ready to carry a joke a little too far,

creature of moods, old man, young man, child,

sitting in a meadow eating blueberries by the bushful.

Don't you know how much we love you?

Old man, curled up in your lair? So come out and be killed, old man!

Sweet-mouth, honey-paws, hairy one!


Alchemist by Elizabeth Brewster

Man, the evil magician,

brews, in the perishable cauldron

of rock and sand,

a violent fiery potion

melted lightning.

Foolish enchanter,

do not break

this great brown dish

with green edges

which has been in the family

all these years.

Where will you find another

to hold your children's supper?


Axe Murderer by Sharon Thesen

Look out!


Here he comes

dragging his axe.

He drags it because

he is so evil & stupid

he cannot hold it up

Unlike the whistling woodcutter

who lives in the little log house.

Chop chop, chop chop

goes the axe.

Eek! and O my God!

say the trees and the women.

All this goes on

in the forest.

So you can relax.


Load by Don McKay

We think this

the fate of mammals--to bear, be born,

be burden, to carry our own bones

as far as we can and know the force that earths us

intimately. Sometimes, while I was reading,

Sam would bestow one large paw on my foot,

as if to support my body

while its mind was absent--mute

commiseration, load to load, a message

like the velvet heaviness which comes

to carry you deliciously


One morning

on the beach at Point Pelee, I met

a White-throated Sparrow so exhausted from the flight

across Lake Erie it just huddled in itself

as I crouched a few yards off.

I was thinking of the muscles in that grey-white breast,

pectoralis major powering each downstroke,

pectoralis minor with its rope-and-pulley tendon

reaching through the shoulder to the

top side of the humerus to haul it up again;

of the sternum with the extra keel it has evolved to

anchor all that effort, of the dark wind

and the white curl on the waves below, the slow dawn

and the thickening shoreline.

I wanted

very much to stroke it, and recalling

several terrors of my brief

and trivial existence, didn't.


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Eventually water,
having been possessed by every verb —
been rush been drip been
geyser eddy fountain rapid drunk
evaporated frozen pissed
transpired — will fall
into itself and sit.
Pond. Things touch
or splash down and it
takes them in — pollen, heron, leaves, larvae, greater
and lesser scaup — nothing declined,
nothing carried briskly off to form
alluvium somewhere else. Pond gazes
into sky religiously but also
gathers in its edge, reflecting cattails, alders,
reed beds and behind them, ranged
like taller children in the grade four photo,
conifers and birch. All of them inverted, carried
deeper into sepia, we might as well say
pondered. For pond is not pool,
whose clarity is edgeless and whose emptiness,
beloved by poets and the moon, permits us
to imagine life without the accident-
prone plumbing of its ecosystems. No,
the pause of pond is gravid and its wealth
a naturally occurring soup. It thickens up
with spawn and algae, while,
on its surface, stirred by every
whim of wind, it translates air as texture —
mottled, moiré, pleated, shirred or
seersuckered in that momentary ecstasy from which
impressionism, like a bridesmaid, steps. When it rains
it winks, then puckers up all over, then,
moving two more inches into metamorphosis,
shudders into pelt.
Suppose Narcissus
were to find a nice brown pond
to gaze in: would the course of self-love
run so smooth with that exquisite face
rendered in bruin undertone,
shaken, and floated in the murk
between the deep sky and the ooze?

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Talk That Mountain Down

Talk That Mountain Down

Poetry from the Banff Writing Studio 2005
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The Hoodoo You Do So Well

The Hoodoo You Do So Well

Poetry from the Banff Writing Studio 2007
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The Shell of the Tortoise

The Shell of the Tortoise

Four Essays & an Assemblage
tagged : essays
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Vis à Vis

Vis à Vis

Field notes on Poetry & Wilderness
also available: Hardcover
tagged : essays
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Haunted Hills and Hanging Valleys

Haunted Hills and Hanging Valleys

Selected Poems 1969-2004
by Peter Trower
foreword by Don McKay
tagged : canadian
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Fiction and Poetry from The Banff Centre for the Arts
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Rip Rap

Rip Rap

Fiction and Poetry from The Banff Centre for the Arts
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Strangers & Others

Strangers & Others

Newfoundland Essays
also available: Paperback
tagged : canadian
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