“‘A Moon Without Metaphors’: Memory, Wilderness, and the Nocturnal in the Poetry of Don McKay”

Joanna Dawson

Abstract


This article seeks to interrogate Don McKay’s body of poetry through the lens of his own critical writings, with a particular focus on poems linking representations of the nocturnal with his concept of “wilderness,” which he defines as the ability of all things to “elude the mind’s appropriations” (“Baler Twine” 21). In McKay’s poetry, night is variously the time of shape-shifting, de-materialization, memory, and non-empirical knowledge, all of which require a re-investigation of the division between inner and outer, memory and experience, and between naming and knowing. At the same time, the article highlights poetic strategies used by an artist who loves the natural world as much as, if not more than, the language in which he renders it. As such, the nuances that assert and describe “otherness” are sharpened; by the same token, the non-human wilderness and the one inherent in human systems of language are shown to imply one another. The uncomfortable space beyond empirical knowledge―and beyond the epistemological convenience of a dichotomy between self and other that such a mode of knowledge introduces—is one that the night forces upon the mind as the latter is reminded of “another gravity” that, even if unseen, remains at work. It is this explanation of the other as “another gravity” that informs much of McKay’s poetry, and that forms the basis for his critical writings about human relationships with the environment beyond mere relationships of utility.

Keywords


Don McKay; 20th-century Canadian poetry; wilderness; phenomenology; poetics of silence/absence; biocentrism

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@Journal of Ecocriticism. ISSN 1916-1549