Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review #9: Another Gravity by Don McKay

(A review of a poetry collection by Canada's most accomplished poet -- and, I believe, one of the best writing in the English language today.)

Another Gravity won the Governor General’s award for poetry, Canada’s premier book prize. McKay also won in 1991 with his collection, Night Field.

McKay’s nine books of poetry are all marked by a rigorous intelligence, a profound feel for language and a lightness of touch. McKay has the uncanny ability to bring together the complex and meaningful with the mundane. In “Sometimes a Voice (1)”, a few friends shingle a boathouse roof, drinking beer and “discussing gravity”. But the simple scene turns into the contemplation of a friend’s disappearance, his hammer stuck inside his boots.

There is a constant play in this book between gravity and its opposite, whether expressed as air, sky, wind, wings or feathers. But the primary focus of attention here is the moon, which appears in numerous poems, not as a sentimental reflection of romantic notions, but as another form of gravity, a guide in the art of reflection.

McKay’s sheer delight in language is infectious. The poems are sprinkled with startling, original turns of phrase: the moon is a “black belly-button swirl”; a dream of eiders diving into the Arctic Ocean leaves his “whole mind applauding”; a luna moth is “a scrap of wedding dress”.

In “Angle of Attack”, McKay states his approach clearly: “we needed duct tape, a philosophy of feathers / and a plan: what to / fall for, gracefully, / and without too much / deliberation, how to mix / the mysticism with the ash and live / next door to nothing, / and with art.”

There is no doubt McKay belongs in the top rank of poets writing in English today.

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