Don McKay

Don McKay, CM (born 1942) is a Canadian poet, editor, and educator.

Don McKay

Born1942 (age 7677)
Alma materUniversity of Western Ontario
University of Wales
OccupationPoet, essayist, editor


Mckay was born in Owen Sound, Ontario and raised in Cornwall, McKay was educated at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Wales, where he earned his PhD in 1971. He taught creative writing and English for 27 years in universities including the University of Western Ontario and the University of New Brunswick.

In 2008, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.[1]

Poetic career

McKay is the author of twelve books of poetry, including Long Sault (1975), Lependu (1978), and Apparatus (1997). He has twice won the Governor General's Award, for Night Field (1991) and Another Gravity (2000). In June 2007, he won the Griffin Poetry Prize for Strike/Slip (2006).

McKay, published since 1973, is described as ' a poet with a patient eye, an acute arresting ear, over flowing with details of ornithology, botany, weather, industry, books and music; nuanced descriptions, philosophical phrasing, folksy idiom. madcap humour and elegy'.[2] Others,[3] consider 'awe, astonishment and wonder to be the keynotes of McKay's poems and poetics' and that his prime subject matter to be 'the workings of the human mind'.

Mckay has also 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 to 1996. He has participated in the Sage Hill Writing experience in Saskatchewan and he is 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, an avid birdwatcher;[4] 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, and some consider 'McKay's preferred environment is located in the natural world'.[5] McKay himself, sees his writing as "nature poetry in a time of environmental crisis."[6] McKay's poems are ecologically centred, inspired by the conflict between inspiration and spiritual, instinct and knowledge.

In his is book of poetic philosophy Vis à Vis: Field Notes on Poetry & Wilderness, Mckay details many of his beliefs on metaphor, wildness, and the homing instinct.

Uniquely, in his definitive 1993 essay 'Baler Twine' McKay describes those moments 'before wrestling with words and music ', a 'state of mind ' ,a preparedness, which he labels as 'poetic attention'; and further describes as a 'sort of readiness ', a 'form of knowing'.[7] McKay, also touches therein on his other main poetic themes of 'Wilderness', 'Home', and 'Matériel' (material existence).




  • Vis à Vis: Field Notes on Poetry & Wilderness (2002) (nominated for a Governor General's Award for Nonfiction)
  • Deactivated West 100 (2005)
  • The Muskwa Assemblage (2009)
  • The Shell of the Tortoise: Four Essays and an Assemblage (2012)

See also


  1. "Governor General Announces New Appointments to the Order of Canada". Archived from the original on 21 January 2009.
  2. Synopsis 'Don McKay, Essays on his works' ed.Brian Bartlett Guernica Editions 2007 ISBN 978 1550712520
  3. Wells,Zachariah 'Faulty lines:The Poetry and Poetics of Don McKay ' Poetry May 2006
  4. Cook, Meira , Introduction 'Field Marks' by Don McKay Wilfrid Laurier University Press Aug 2009
  5. Emslie, Susan 'Got to Meander:Excursions and Excursionist figures in Don McKay:Wascana Review 30.1 1995
  6. McKay, Don. Vis-à-Vis: Field Notes on Poetry & Wilderness. Wolfville: Gaspereau Press, 2001, p.9.
  7. McKay Don,'Baler Twine:thoughts on ravens, home, and nature poetry' Studies in Canadian Literature CLC/ELC vol 18 no 1 1993
  8. Web page titled "Don McKay" at the "writing canada into the millennium" Web site. Retrieved 6 October 2007
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 March 2008. Retrieved 27 April 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Web page titled "Griffin Poetry Prize 2007" at the Griffin Poetry Prize Web site. Retrieved 6 October 2007


  • Brian Barlett, ed. Don McKay: Essays on His Works. Guernica Editions, Toronto (2006). ISBN 9781550712520.
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