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Book Reviews

Another Gravity

by Don McKay

Another Gravity, B.C. poet Don McKay’s ninth book, weaves together three dozen poems by a writer who has surely thought a great deal about Shakespeare’s famous lines concerning lunatics, lovers, and poets who give “a local habitation and a name” to “airy nothings.” McKay’s own poems constantly take as their subjects things that inhabit the air: birds, voices, music, the moon, the Northern Lights.

These are reflective poems that reconsider daytime certainties in a new light. “Before the Moon” suggests that until the moon “broke out on its own,/there was no second gravity and no/dark art of reflection.” Back then, quips the poem, views were less nuanced: “The sun owned all the media.”

Sublunary writing need not be fuzzy or vague, however. Instead McKay creates the conviction that he works from precise knowledge, whether it’s of jazz music or of the science of flight. In “Load,” for instance, a worn-out white-throated sparrow catching its breath at Point Pelee inspires consideration of “the muscles in that grey-white breast,/pectoralis major powering each downstroke” and of “the sternum with the extra keel it has evolved to/anchor all that effort.”

The blend of precision and wit here, joined with a sure and easy sense of rhythm, makes for lovely and thoughtful poetry that’s still accessible on first reading. While working at a safe remove from any kind of cutting edge in politics or in style, McKay (who won the Governor General’s Award for Night Field in 1991) shows what popular poetry could be – if poetry were popular. The structure of the book as a whole is harmonious and progressive, finally suggesting a point of departure where words are left behind in favour of (as in the title of one of the final poems) the “Finger Pointing at the Moon.”