Don McKay, award-winning nature poet, writing instructor and publisher, charted a path From Here to Infinity (or so) in his Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poets Lecture presented on October 21, 2010.
“..it seems that a mild, or homeopathic, dose if the infinite is the crucial element in the aesthetic experience known as the sublime, an experience prized by such diverse movements as Romantic poetry and tourism. In such cases – contemplating the night sky, standing on a summit, or even thinking about the grains of sand on a beach – we can feel our sense of reality shift and refocus, or try to. Our location in place alters, as though our familiar road map had been ripped from our hands and been replaced by a chart of the cosmos. Our temporal location also shifts, from the reliable orientation of a clock and calendar, to the wooziness of deep time.”
Don McKay has published ten previous books of poetry. His work has received national acclaim and such honours as two Governor General’s Awards for Poetry, for Night Field (1991) and for Another Gravity (2000). He was previously shortlisted twice for the Griffin Poetry Prize, most recently for Camber: Selected Poems (2004), which was a Globe and Mail Noteable Book of the Year. McKay is also known as a poetry editor, and he has taught poetry in universities across the country. He now lives in Newfoundland.
He has made a wide impression as a teacher and editor. He is the co-founder and manuscript reader for Brick Books, one of Canada’s leading poetry presses, and was editor of the literary journal The Fiddlehead from 1991-96. He has participated in the Sage Hill Writing Experience in Saskatchewan and is also the Associate Director for poetry at the Banff Centre for the Arts Writing Studio. He has edited many books by fellow poets, including Ken Babstock, George Elliot Clarke, Tim Lilburn, Barbara Colebrook Peace, and Michael Redhill.
McKay is an avid¬†birdwatcher; and bird themes and flight are dominant topics in his poetry. In Birding, or Desire (1983), the quirky protagonist is never far from his Birds of Canada hobbyist’s field guide. McKay’s passion for birds and nature percolates throughout all of his work. McKay sees his writing as, “nature poetry in a time of environmental crisis”. His poems are ecologically centred, inspired by the conflict between inspiration and spiritual, instinct and knowledge. Other members of this emerging group of co-poets include: Tim Lilburn, Dennis Lee, Roo Borson, Robert Bringhurst, and Jan Zwicky.
1973: Air Occupies Space. Sesame Press.
1975: Long Sault. Applegarth Follies.
1980: Lightning Ball Bait. Coach House Press.
1983: Birding, or Desire (nominated for a Governor General’s Award). McClelland & Stewart.
1987: Sanding Down this Rocking Chair on a Windy Night. McClelland & Stewart.
1991: Night Field (winner of the 1991 Governor General’s Award for poetry). McClelland & Stewart.
1997: Apparatus (nominated for a Governor General’s Award). McClelland & Stewart.
2000: Another Gravity (shortlisted for the 2001 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize). McClelland & Stewart.
2003: Varves (chapbook).
2004: Camber (shortlisted for the 2005 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize). McClelland & Stewart.
2006: Strike/Slip (winner of the 2007 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize). McClelland & Stewart.
2006: Field Marks: The Poetry of Don McKay (edited by Meira Cook). Wilfrid Laurier University Press.
2008: Song for the Songs of Birds (audiobook). Rattling Books.
2010: Leaf to leaf-Foglio a foglia (Italian translation by Sara Fruner and Filippo Mariano). Longo Angelo.
2000: Vis a Vis: Field Notes on Poetry & Wilderness (nominated for a Governor General’s Award for Nonfiction). Gaspereau Press.
2005 : Deactivation West 100. Gaspereau Press.
2009 : The Muskwa Assemblage. Gaspereau Press.