by Susan Font
A reading by award-winning Canadian poets Don McKay and Jan Zwicky attracted
an overflow crowd of rapt students on Oct. 7. McKay is a two-time winner
of the Governor-Generals Award, for Another Gravity (2000)
and Night Field (1991).
McKay started the evening with Alibi. The lines swallows
with knives of wings and later, in Alias Rock Dove, pigeons
like empty gloves, demonstrated McKays observant eye, and
how he angles images for sharper significance or thematic resonance. There
are a lot of birds and references to flight or ascension in his work.
The Canoe People, from his new book Vis à Vis,
was a reference to a Haida story of spirit beings who were perpetual travellers
but didnt realize they were spirits. They lived in a space
that creative people know only too well, McKay quipped before reading.
Theyre out there, the unformed ones,/shapes in sea-mist, half-/coagulated
air, in their mossy/second-hand canoe maundering into English with its
one-thing-then-/another traffic-signaled syntax.
Zwicky, a winner of the Governor-Generals Award in 1999 for her
poetry collection Songs for Relinquishing the Earth (1998), also
teaches environmental philosophy at the University of Victoria. She is
this years recipient of a teaching excellence award in her department.
Border Station, one of the poems from this book, evoked a
vivid image of her home province, Alberta. Raised on the prairies,
I/could see it clearly/the beauty/of the storms that can form in the vast
light above the plains.
In answer to students questions, McKay described his poetic sense
as a dog sniffing around potential versions of his poems. Zwicky characterized
hers at its most obstinate as a sort of fish. I know the damn things
out there, but I cant haul it in, it wont bite!
She spoke of writing determinedly through writers block. The
damn poems dead on the table and you keep working.
McKay had the last word for frustrated poets: If it feels stale,
step away from it. Just go to the pub and take some reading with you.
This was one in a series of readings by invited authors, sponsored by
the Canada Council for the Arts, among others, and the Department of English.
On Nov. 7, at 8:30 p.m. in H-420, there will be a reading by Caroline
Adderson, author of Bad Imaginings and A History of Forgetting. Edmonton
author Shawna Lemay (All the God-Sized Fruit, and Against Paradise) will
read Nov. 18 in H-535-2.