Exploring ecopoetry: Don McKay

Don McKay at Eden Mills Writers' Festival

Eden Mills Writers’ Festival on Sunday devoted one session to ecopoetry. To my shame I was unfamiliar with all three writers, apparently established voices in Canada’s living literary pantheon. I missed the first one, Roo Borson, because I wanted to hear an author at a different venue, but caught Tim Lilburn and Don McKay. I felt a natural, immediate connection with McKay’s writing.

The festival takes place annually in a village a few minutes’ drive from Guelph. Eden Mills is a bucolic place that probably has not seen much economic action since the 19th Century. Most of the readings take place outdoors on parklands and private lawns. However, this year one session was located in Eden Mills United Church. It is ironic and puzzling that the festival decided to locate these nature poetry readings indoors, with more appropriate setting available. However, the chapel was small, and this was most likely a pragmatic consideration about the limited audience for contemporary poetry versus other literary forms.

McKay selected from his newest collection, Paradoxides (McLelland & Stewart, 2012), named after a fossil trilobite. Many of the poems relate to two of McKay’s fascinations: rocks and birds.

He commented that metaphor is at the heart of poetry; a metaphor is something partly true and partly untrue. It represents one thing as something else, which it is not, to illuminate what it is. For example, a series of McKay’s poems about birdsong explore ideas about dialogue, meaning, philosophy and existence. The profound is garnished with humour.

Nature reveals its own inherent truth along with a metaphor for personal experience. I look forward to reading Paradoxides and more of McKay’s writing as he shares his unique view of Earth and our place in it.

His previous collection of poetry, Strike/Slip, won the 2007 Griffin Prize. McKay’s video-recorded readings can be viewed on the Griffin’s website.

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