Strike/Slip by Don McKay

McKay, Don. Strike/Slip. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2006.

Completed: 26 November 2010

When I started reading for the Canadian Book Challenge I decided to read a poet from each province and territory.  Don McKay is a well established poet, having published 10 previous books of poetry.  I saw this book in the shop and, as he lives in Newfoundland, decided to pick up the volume as my Newfoundland poet.  I have not previously read any of his work. This particular volume had the added benefit/drawback of being the Griffin Poetry Prize winner for 2007.  Mr. McKay has also won two Governor General’s awards for poetry.  Obviously he is a poet to be reckoned with.

The publisher’s blurb from the back cover reads:
“In this extraordinary collection from one of our most celebrated poets, Don McKay walks the strike-slip fault between poetry and landscape, sticks its strange nose into the cold silence of geologic time, meditates on marble, quartz, and gneiss, and attends to the songs of ravens and thrushes and to the clamour of the industrialized bush.  Behind these poems lies the urge to engage the tectonics of planetary dwelling with the rickety contraption of language, and to register the stress, sheer, and strain – but also the astonishment – engendered by that necessary failure.”

I have no idea what that little blurb means.  Two run on sentences that, despite all their running, get nowhere.  I sincerely hope that the publishers were not hoping to sell any books based on that drivel.  My copy was a remainder and I’m still disappointed at what I paid for it.

I had a look at the Griffin Poetry site and read the Judges’ citation.  No help there either.  Just more dense prose generating much smoke and very little light for me.

By and large the poems in this volume did not work for me.  It was not a complete write off though.  Some of the poems, upon returning to them for a second and third reading have grown on me.  “Utter” is one of those poems.  As Mr. McKay describes it, “[Utter] when used as a noun, means the irregular marks left on a surface by the vibration or too great pressure of a tool.”  The poem creates interesting images:
—To slip that edge
between the ribs of grazing ungulates
the size of minivans. To reach
into the rock and drag forth
Inco.  To be there when pain finds
words and tastes them acrid and metallic
on its raw tongue. Uttered.

Others, initially seeming interesting have become much less interesting.  “Varves” seems less a poem than a very short narrative story that wanders of somewhere.  There were a number of these narratives sprinkled throughout the collection.  “Pine Siskins” was one of the poems that initially caught my attention.  Upon rereading it I find that my feelings for the collection are summed up by the start of the second verse: “But who cares?”  Not me.

Don McKay lives in Newfoundland and is my 6th provincial poet.

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2 Responses to Strike/Slip by Don McKay

  1. John Mutford says:

    Poetry blurbs are often terrible and sometimes, at least for me, it’s hard not to be soured on the poems before I’ve even read one. If the blurb isn’t pretentious, it’s usually some asinine attempt at finding some non-existent or vague connection between all the poems and/or crediting the poet with something that any poet worth his/her salt does anyway. What the blurb you quoted is trying to say, I have no clue.

    • wollamshram says:

      I’m glad to know that it isn’t just me. As part of the Canadian Book Challenge I’m trying to expand my reading to include more poetry by a larger variety of Canadian poets. Who to read though?

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