Don McKay’s 12th collection is his first since the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize–winning Strike/Slip. Despite the fact that this new volume is weighted toward verse about aging and life’s inevitable deterioration, its paradoxically upbeat and hopeful poems are written with gusto. Paradoxides is filled with evidence of the celebrated Newfoundland poet’s boundless curiosity and abiding delight in both the truly miraculous and the utterly quotidian. His reverence for all things, both living and inanimate, is infectious.
One of Canada’s most highly regarded poets, McKay is also one of its most ecologically minded: a David Suzuki of the poetry world. The collection’s opening poems explore creatures – winged, crawling, and creeping. As in his best work, the tone is conversational, and his oddball sense of humour helps leaven what could otherwise edge into the realm of the overly sentimental. “Song for the Song of the Canada Geese” offers a defence of the iconic bird, often seen as a messy pest: “So what / if they waddle, shit / gooseshit on the grass all summer then neglect / to migrate? Were the geese to quit their existential yammer, talk / would also cease.”
The tone becomes more contemplative in the middle sections. “Eddy Out,” a long, brooding lyric, asks the question, “How many winters more / before I seamlessly shift, a snowshoe hare’s fur / passing into white?” In the geologically themed “Tuff,” the poet emphasizes the way life builds upon its previous stages: “Nothing never ends, / it says, catastrophe accumulates, the lost / decline to stay lost and return / like dying and reviving rock bands.”
The collection’s final poems are the most intimate. In them, McKay pays homage to the inanimate objects that have served as his loyal companions – most notably his walking stick, which gets its own four-part poem. Fans of McKay’s work will find this collection every bit as familiar and sturdy as that humble object.
Correction: An earlier version of this review mistakenly indicated that Don McKay lives in Nova Scotia. Q&Q regrets the error.