Mouse # 17: Channelling (the imagery of) Don McKay

Before the Masterclass with Roo Borson, I’d been in Sam’s Place book and coffee shop and found a copy of The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology from 2005, which contains her poems as well as Don McKay’s and several others’. Every time I read McKay, I marvel at his ability to combine images in wild ways. Here’s one of my favourite lines from the anthology: “Sleep, my favourite flannel shirt, wears thin, and shreds, and birdsong happens in the holes.” His words do something physiological (cool, not creepy) to my innards.

So, at the class, I asked Roo how to improve my use of images, in response to The Fiddlehead‘s rejection letter (“Your images lack depth”). We discussed some ideas but the impossible question “How can I channel Don McKay?” hung in the air. How does one learn to mix images in exciting ways that are both unique and meaningful?

When I saw Roo the day after the class at her In Dialogue reading, she said, “I’m so glad to see you again because I woke in the night with an answer to your question: Rewrite your favourite McKay poems replacing some of the words. Do that three times, and you’ll understand how to use images the way he does.”

So below is my Roo Borson-inspired writing exercise using Don McKay’s piece “Antler” from his “Bone poems.” Whether or not it works, the fact that a Griffin poetry prize winner would dream about my questions is enough!

Angeline Schellenberg impersonating Don McKay:


Holy Crow. Some creature
so completely iridescence that its wings

burst into bubbles.
Now we understand those songs of the furious

washer woman, flapping silk knits
that stretch to the treetops reaching for the spin-dried sky seams

unraveling from seams, opalescent
messages mailed from Panama each May.

Truly, we will also remember every flower,
wearing our invisible froth at our sides, tongues

hovering above their nectar,
hunting for the flashing thread.

2 thoughts on “Mouse # 17: Channelling (the imagery of) Don McKay

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