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Open Wide a Wilderness

Canadian Nature Poems

Don McKay; Nancy Holmes, editor

Environmental Humanities Series

Paper 534 pp.

ISBN13: 978-1-55458-033-0

Release Date: April 2009

Online discount: 25%

$38.99  $29.24


The first anthology to focus on the rich tradition of Canadian nature poetry in English, Open Wide a Wilderness is a survey of Canada’s regions, poetries, histories, and peoples as these relate to the natural world. The poetic responses included here range from the heights of the sublime to detailed naturalist observation, from the perspectives of pioneers and those who work in the woods and on the sea to the dismayed witnesses of ecological destruction, from a sense of terror in confrontation with the natural world to expressions of amazement and delight at the beauty and strangeness of nature, our home. Arranged chronologically, the poems include excerpts from late-eighteenth-century colonial pioneer epics and selections from both well-known and more obscure nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers. A substantial section is devoted to contemporary writers who are working within and creating a new ecopoetic aesthetic in the early twenty-first century.

Don McKay’s introductory essay, “Great Flint Singing,” explores in McKay’s inimitable way the thorny issues of Canadian poets’ representations of nature over the past 150 years. Focusing on key texts by Duncan Campbell Scott, Charles G.D. Roberts, Earle Birney, Dennis Lee, and others, the essay traces Wordsworthian influences in a New World context, celebrates Canadian poets’ love of natural history observation, and finds a way through a rich and contradictory tradition to current trends in ecopoetics.

Nancy Holmes has published four collections of poetry, most recently Mandorla (2005). She has lived in Alberta, Ontario, and, most recently, British Columbia, where she teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in Kelowna.

Don McKay has published eight books of poetry. Among his many awards are the Governor General’s Award in 1991 (for Night Fields) and in 2000 (for Another Gravity). He was shortlisted for the 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize for Camber and was the Canadian winner in 2007 for Strike/Slip. Born in Owen Sound, Ontario, Don McKay has been active as an editor, creative writing teacher, and university instructor, as well as a poet. He lives in Newfoundland.


“Nancy Holmes, the editor of this, the first anthology of Canadian nature poetry...has risen marvellously to the challenge of sifting through over 200 years of Canadian poetry to produce a collection that proves both fresh and familiar, revisiting the poems of early settlement and introducing the eco-poetry of the present generation.”

— Linda Knowles, British Journal of Canadian Studies

“If Canadians have a cultural inferiority complex, it is not on display in Nancy Holmes’s anthology. This ‘first-ever survey of Canadian nature poetry’ surprises with its belatedness and impresses with its ambition: two hundred poets appear, spanning the years 1789–2008.... This anthology deservces a place on every ecocritic’s booksheld.... Holmes arranges her selections chronologically by author’s date of birth, tracing a historical trajectory while placing poets amongst their (often lesser-known) contemporaries. So Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, for example, take their place among a generation of influentical poets little-known beyond Canada’s borders, including Daphne Marlatt, Don McKay, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Dennis Lee, John Newlove, John Thompson, and Pat Lowther. Holmes does a wonderful job surrounding these poets, whose work encompasses the collection’s core, with colonial, Confederation-era, and Modernist predecessors, and with post-Nationalist, postmodern, postcolonial, and other recent poets, both obscure and celebrated. Though formally avant-garde work is largely absent, challenging ideas about ‘nature’ and ‘wilderness’ are not. The paratext assembled by Holmes establishes her anthology’s value as a critical and teaching resource. In addition to brief author bios, she provides a subject index enabling searches for poems about diverse topics such as pioneers, roadkill, birdwatching, canoes, language, mining, rivers, science, individual flora and fauna, and wilderness. Holmes’s editorial work is introduced by fellow poet Don McKay’s essay, ‘Great Flint Singing.’ Avuncular, witty, and erudite, McKay (easily Canada’s most respected living eco-poet) provides an overview of Canadian nature poetry while at the same time arguing for its national, global, and environmental relevance.... The beauty of this anthology is that readers can test McKay’s claims for themselves by dipping into the rich tradition of nature poetry that Holmes has carefully gathered from a wilderness of options.”

— Travis V. Mason, Dalhousie University, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

“Nancy to be congratulated.... This beautiful anthology begins hugging you very quickly. Read Open Wide a Wilderness for refreshment and discovery, for epic journeys into the minds of insects and the lives of flowers, to rejoin your totems and familiars, and to rekindle your resolve to continue the good fight. Keep it close at hand in case you wake up lonely at night—and when you crave solitude. Read the poems aloud to your friends and sing them to the river.”

— Greg Michalenko, University of Waterloo, Alternatives

“With 192 poets and almost 300 poems, this ‘first-ever survey of Canadian nature poetry’ is a welcome resource for exploring a feature of the Canadian literary imagination that was once considered central to Canadian national identity. Demographic developments in the country since WWII have ‘heterogenized’ any such identity, and many of the works Holmes (Univ. of British Columbia, Okanagan) selected specifically reflect changes in ‘the rural-urban interface’ that have transformed Canadian society and culture.... McKay’s introductory essay, ‘Great Flint Singing’ sure to be much analyzed and debated by critics.... Highly recommended.”

— D.R. McCarthy, Huron University College, CHOICE