Canadian poet, Don McKay, describes wilderness as “the placeless place beyond the mind’s appropriation.” Though ever elusive, a poet must seek this wilderness through “poetic attention” – “a sort of readiness, a species of longing which is without desire to possess.” Essentially, poetic attention is a longing for wilderness; it is also an act of humility and gratitude – however inept – offered to “the other” (i.e. that which is not human), irrespective of reciprocity or even the potential for it. Authentic humanity depends upon this act, no matter how futile it may be.
McKay’s own intense longing for wilderness is embodied in his self-adopted role as “nature poet”, and the way in which he chooses to write as one (for example, through the prolific use of thoughtful anthropomorphizing, a gesture that shakes up imposed human order and appropriation). Through a close reading and analysis of two of McKay’s books, Another Gravity and Vis à Vis, Field Notes on Poetry and Wilderness (complementary volumes of poetry and poetics respectively), this paper reveals how, for McKay, the journey to a poem is an attempt at a personal journey to the other. As well, it demonstrates how McKay’s poetry offers the reader an experiential conduit to the philosophical contemplations found in his poetics, all of which he clearly hopes will have some ameliorating effect on how we (humans) regard, treat and relate to the other – be it tin cup, tiger, toothpick, or tree.