Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review #20: Deactivated West 100 by Don McKay

As well as being one of Canada's finest poets, Don McKay carves insightful and beautiful essays out of the natural world around him.

Two-time Governor General’s Award winner for poetry, McKay, in this collection of essays, explores “the relation between place and wilderness”. Intriguingly, McKay investigates the meaning of place by getting lost in the deep backwoods of Vancouver Island. The author is intimately attuned to plant life, animals and birds, the geologic signatures under the landscape, as well as the few fading remnants of human passage through this thick overgrown bush country. McKay’s wandering, however, is always rooted in language, where he dazzles like sudden sunlight on mica, as he pictures himself “a man stepping blindly into line one of The Inferno…” Any long walk is also an opportunity to muse, as McKay does here, on a variety of fascinating subjects: the use of the cleft-triangle in painted caves and Joyce’s Ulysses, the impossibility of finding hermits as a theme in ancient Chinese poetry, and the way waterfalls can “break into speech”. McKay keeps his feet on solid earth and his ear well tuned – he is as comfortable quoting Yogi Berra and The Globe and Mail as Jorge Luis Borges and Xenophanes. With exhilarating imagination and insight, McKay reminds us that “place is where stories happen…where infinity becomes history.”

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