Before moving to Prince George in 1969, Barry McKinnon was writing single narrative poems that, in terms of form, began to seem outworn and inadequate in his new environment. The emotional range of the lyric had become too personal and limiting. Starting with a poem based on a discarded fragment and a shoebox of photos his prairie grandfather had taken of the family homestead, he began to piece together his first long poem: “I Wanted to Say Something.” Though this story had nothing to do with Prince George, the form it generated was large enough and open enough to set the possibilities for writing in the larger dimensions of self and place he had been searching for: the political, the social, the institutional, the environmentalthe layered and fragmented outside/inside he now found himself in.
Leaving “‘I Wanted to Say Something” behind as an absent precursor, The Centre: Poems 19702000 begins, appropriately, with “The Death of a Lyric Poet”the sequence of poems that initiate his engagement of and life in the north with new and unavoidably present recognitions as sources for the work. The “centre” in this sequence of ten long poems thus shifts from a nostalgic, idealized and elegiac rural singularity to a new relentless multiplicity of the urban, where the centre constantly threatens not to hold. The “centre” in these books becomes simultaneously the shopping centre, the community centre, the industrial centre: a multiplicity of urban attentions reproducing itself as an articulate awareness of a fractured and fragmented self. Beauty appears in this wasteland only through glimpses of externalized objects of desire: a new, materialized “arrhythmia” of the heart, grounded in the scarlet fever of an ever-receding innocence of youth.
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About the Author
Barry McKinnon writes primarily in the form of the long poem/serial sequence, a form that gives him the necessary range in which to “articulate the poem’s central truth from various & variable angles & perspectives.” In his own words, he sees the long poem as “a way to log my experience & to record what I value most in a context of forces, subtle or not, that threaten those values.” His recent work includes The Centre (Talonbooks, 2004) and In the Millenium (New Star, 2009).