From the Archives / Remembering Barry McKinnon (1944–2023)

Barry McKinnon stands in front of a doorway and stares directly at the camera.
Barry McKinnon. Photo by Graham Pearce.

Today, re-reading Sharon Thesen’s interview with Barry McKinnon, I came to his attestations on intention. He said, “Poetry to me is all a mistake of sorts. What you discover is the result of a mistake”; and a few lines later, “When I say, make a ‘mistake’ in the poem, I’m saying, allow the poem itself to happen.”  And here — this time — I heard the voice of Sun Ra: “You made a mistake / You did something wrong /  Now make another mistake / And do something right.” 

By the early 1990s I had begun to write about northern BC, where a distant kinsman had thrived in the 1800s. I came into Prince George for the first time in October 1991, having bicycled up from Vancouver, and Barry McKinnon agreed to meet me in the parking lot of the Downtown Motel. I knew who Barry was because I’d admired his “Pulp Log” excerpt — the poet talking from Sears/Roebuck — in The Capilano Review. I’ve been to Prince George almost every year since then, the conversation begun at the Downtowner having simply continued. My 1998 poetry book, Giscome Road, is dedicated to Barry. Later, Louis Cabri invited the two of us to take part in his PhillyTalks Series — two poets engaging in a public correspondence over the course of a year or so and then meeting and talking in person, the “in-person” occasion (ours was in Calgary) being webcast. Barry’s poem, one from our PhillyTalks correspondence, was reprinted/excerpted in The Capilano Review:

our immediate connection / spontaneous
difficult talk / easy talk.  We, familiar with similar materials or lack of them, and questions –
and a sense of a share in a cursed journey, if it were not for the almost promise that its very
activity is what could equally save anyone on it.

We talked

into the night. back porch beer epiphanies / and over the years of our talks to a kind of
necessary knowledge – as if by articulating a shared skill, concern, and practice, each step
ahead be taken more assuredly – give simultaneous courage in the foolish prompt to risk


                                   the wilderness                         the nothing         

dumbly /  head out

The last nine words here — count backwards from out — begin to say it all. And we headed out together a number of times — to Tumbler Ridge, to Joshua Tree in California, to the fabled Astoria bar on East Hastings Street in Vancouver. And most recently to Penny, 100+ kilometers east of Prince George, Penny where the road ends. (But at Penny there’s a single-track up Red Mountain and at the foot of the trail’s a sign advising hikers — “Expect to Meet Wild Animals.”)

— C.S. Giscombe

Barry McKinnon / “from Head Out: (A letter, essay, poem – for C.S. Giscombe”

Ten years before Cecil Giscombe wrote the above quiet memorial, Barry published in TCR a piece for Cecil that remembers their meeting and friendship.

Sharon Thesen / “An interview with Barry McKinnon”

From Issue 1.32 (1984)

Barry McKinnon / “Pearl” from “Three Poems”

From Issues 1.8 and 1.9 (1975)

Barry McKinnon / “JOURNAL: after Pierre’s Paintings” from “Thoughts / Sketches”

From Issues 1.32 (1984)

Never miss an issue

Get a subscription to three issues per year. Cancel anytime.

Donate to TCR

Support one of Canada's longest-standing publishers of contemporary writing and art

Advertise in TCR

Download our media kit to find pricing and specifications