Lorenzo Reading Series: Poet Don McKay Reads From Angular Unconformity

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Renowned Canadian poet Don McKay read as a part of the Lorenzo Reading Series at the UNBSJ campus on Thursday, Oct. 2. Reading some poems from his latest collection of poetry, Angular Unconformity: The Collected Poems, McKay was met with around 30 students and fans eager to hear the poet share his works in person.

McKay has been involved in publishing since 1973, not only as a published poet, but also as an Editor for the Fiddlehead Literary Journal located on the UNB Fredericton campus.

Having written 12 different books of poetry, Angular Unconformity is by far the largest of his books, consisting of 584 pages, with countless amounts of poems.

While some may know what an angular unconformity is, there were many who were unsure, and McKay kindly gave some background to those of us who are not as well-versed in geological terms. An angular unconformity is the layer between two rock sequences that has shifted over time to become uneven. Though this definition may seem irrelevant, McKay titled the collection with the intention that the reader would take not only the literal translation, but also the deeper poetic meaning, into consideration. Despite the clear literal definition of angular unconformity, McKay left it up to the reader to interpret its poetic meaning.

While many of McKay’s recent poems have themes that are related to geology, he does have a series of poems named “Songs for the Songs of the Birds”. Admitting that he is an avid birdwatcher, McKay stated that before geology, his poems were mostly focused on birds, namely his interpretation of how they think and act.

McKay read several different poems from Angular Unconformity. Some of the poems being “Brief Encounter,” “Many Breasted Warbler,” “Song for the Song Wood Thrush,” “Song for the song of the Purple Finch,” and “Some Last Regret.”

One unusual poem that McKay read was “Brief Encounter,” a poem about his current self encountering a younger version of himself. Explaining how he got his inspiration, McKay jokingly said that he had previously read a book that had had a theme very similar to this, and how it was unusual that two different authors would write something so similar.

When asked which poets or authors have inspired him and how he writes, McKay commented that he wrote, “a lot when I studied English,” continuing to say, “I was inspired a lot by the Romantic Poets, especially because of their attitudes to nature… And because of his great mythologizing, William Blake. But when I started writing myself and looked around at people who were contemporises…and poets like Ted Hughes, a great nature poet.”

After being asked who his target audience is, McKay explained, “I don’t even have an audience in mind to tell you the truth. It’s more an act of discovery, especially the later years when I go into areas that I don’t inherit an understanding, they’re not literary subjects, like birding or geology.”

If you are wondering what advice McKay would give to aspiring poets, it is this: “read as much as possible, read everything… try to develop catholic tastes, absorb everything. Make it so that you don’t have to decide whether you like it or not too soon. Go into it and say there’s some energy here, and I want that energy… Read really widely, read as interestingly as you can, and keep your eyes and ears open.”