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Open Wide a Wilderness

Canadian Nature Poems

By Don McKay
Edited by Nancy Holmes
Subjects Environmental Studies, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Canadian Literature
Series Environmental Humanities Hide Details
Paperback : 9781554580330, 534 pages, April 2009


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, 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, Vol. 24, #1, 2011, 2011 October

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, Vol. 36 no. 4, 2010 July

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, March 2010, 2010 April