Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Poetry Canadian


by (author) Don McKay

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Aug 2021
Canadian, Places, Nature
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Aug 2021
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


"[McKay's] exuberantly musical and shrewd poems are ecological in the fullest sense of the word: they seek to elucidate our relationships with our fragile dwelling places both on the earth and in our own skins." --New York Times Book Review

E.J. Pratt Family Poetry Award, Winner

An extraordinary collection of poems from Griffin Poetry Prize winner Don McKay.

Old joke: “What’s the difference between a lurch and a dance step?”

“I don’t know.”

“I didn’t think so. Let’s sit down.”

These poems are what happens when you stay out on the dance floor instead, dancing the staggers. The full moon rises from the ocean and you lurch with astonishment that we live on a rocky sphere whirling in space. Or the bird in your hand—a pipit or a storm petrel—conveys the exquisite frailty of existence. And there’s the complex of lurches as we contemplate our complicity in the sixth mass extinction.

Throughout Lurch, language dances its ardent incompetence as a translator of “the profane wonders of the wilderness,” whether manifest as Balsam Fir, Catbirds, the extinct Eskimo Curlew, or the ever-present Cosmic Microwave Background.

What is the difference between a love song and an elegy?

We live between eroding raindrops

and accelerating clocks. The piano

lifts its lid to show its wire-and-hammer


About the author

Don McKay has published numerous books of poetry, including Birding, or desire (1983), Night Field (1991), Apparatus (1997), Another Gravity (2000), Strike/Slip (2006), The Muskwa Assemblage (2008), and Paradoxides (2012). He won the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2007, two Governor General's Awards for Poetry (in 1991 and 2000), a National Magazine Award in 1991, the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Poetry (in 1983 and 2013), and the E.J. Pratt Poetry Award in 2013. His books have also appeared on the shortlists for the Governor General's Award for Non-fiction (in 2002), the Governor General's Award for Poetry (in 1983 and 1997), and the Griffin Poetry Prize (in 2001 and 2005). He was named to the Order of Canada in 2009

McKay is also a respected editor, teacher, and scholar. He has taught at the University of Western Ontario, the University of New Brunswick, the Banff Centre for the Arts, and the Sage Hill Writing Experience. He has served as editor and co-publisher of Brick Books since 1975, and from 1991 to 1996, he edited The Fiddlehead. He presently lives in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Don McKay's profile page

Excerpt: Lurch (by (author) Don McKay)


What is the sad bird singing?
Something in the interrogative mood,
says the piano, some koan, and the violin
with the slept-in suit and smoky baritone
concurs. Outside, someone scratches
on a stone, writing out a point
or knapping in the style of Homo habilis, esteemed
inventor of instruments.
The five-note bird flies
in and out of opera, in
and out of flux, ferrying music
back to noise and noise,
spruced up, to a picnic in Algonquin Park.
Later, the cricket-ratchet creature.
Later, excoriating chords.
Was there a word for rock
ringing? We live between eroding raindrops
and accelerating clocks. The piano
lifts its lid to show its wire-and-hammer

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Don McKay:
"Don McKay walks us out to the uncertain ground between the known and unknown, between the names we have given things and things as they are. . . . McKay's meditations on time's evidence acquire a similar heft, proposing, in their discipline of mind and generosity of spirit, a way to be at home in the world. A book of patience, courage, and quiet eloquence." --Judges' Citation, 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize (Winner)

"He is an essential poet of our time." --Judges' Citation, 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize

"Don McKay is one of the very best Canadian poets. . . . He is a poet of a unique nature, a poet with a great capacity for beauty and grace." --Northern Poetry Review
"Reading McKay is a heightened and altering experience; it changes my personal relationship with language and silence." --Toronto Star

Other titles by