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Don McKay.

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, c1983.
127pp, paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-7710-5761-X.

Grades 10 and up.
Reviewed by Tony Cosier.

Volume 12 Number 1
1984 January

Don McKay keeps coming back to the Birds of Canada book on his shelf. It anchors his thoughts. It connects the birds he studies and broods on to the family he loves.

McKay can spin out data on his birds in the vein of a technical manual. He can study them in a landscape, sketch himself as a character by the way he thinks of birds. He can hatch mental visions from the birds, seeing sparrows sew the sky, feeling blackbirds recompose a meadow. He can turn birdsong into the contemporary sound poem, "scritch scritch zoo zee zoo zoo zee killy killy killy," or let their beaks peck lettering down the concrete page. He can hinge a meditation on a feather's shape.

McKay's mode is nimble, eclectic. Euphemism flanks crudity. Profundity nudges banality. Within a single sentence, he can spark, sigh, and flatten with, "If we grew such bits/of laughter on our bodies we'd enjoy/a finer intimacy with the air/a tax break." It is a flitting style that lends itself more readily to the superficial than the profound, but to the poignant at best. McKay is most poignant when the image is strong, where the sense of the moment is sharp and the human context is intimate. Effective in this way is the image of his wife, bathed in light, groping for her underwear and finding a piece of rose-coloured quartz; effective as a cheerleader's entire adolescence is compacted in one swooping backflip; but most effective of all, the Great Blue Heron rising like its name, pointed out, looked upon, juxtaposed with a child's clasped, bird-boned wrist.

Tony Cosier, Confederation H. S., Nepean, ON.
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