26 May 2006

Dr. Barry McKinnon, Honoris Causa UNBC

On Friday, May 26, 2006, Barry McKinnon was given an honorary Doctor of Laws from UNBC. From the Convocation proceedings:

"Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present, for the degree of Doctor
of Laws, 'honoris causa,' Barry Benjamin McKinnon.

Wallace Stegner, Western American writer and teacher, wrote “a place is not a place until it has had a poet.” For this place, Prince George, that poet is Barry McKinnon. But a poet imagines a place into being beside itself and we don't want to hear that. Prince George is hard place to be a poet and it is perhaps a medal for bravery that we bestow today.

In a 1971 statement in Al Purdy’s Storm Warning anthology of new Canadian poets, McKinnon testifies that “I started to write poetry as an act of rebellion—to claim an identity that was my own.” To me, this sounds very much like the mindset of a young idealistic UNBC. And, like the struggles of an outpost identity, it takes a lot of integrity to stick with it. For over 35 years, Barry McKinnon has suffered the budget cuts and downsizing, the redistribution of resources to more practical programs than creative writing, and the stigma of being from a smaller urban centre. But Canadian writers like the late Al Purdy and George Bowering were keenly aware of his work. Canadian letters acclaimed him critically and celebrated him. He has been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, the top poetry award in the country. New York knows his work. Prince George scarcely knows him. Such is the nature of the poet.

So despite all obstacles here he is, many books later, and it was last year that I heard him say that he finally felt at home here. Ironies clothe Barry and I am sure he finds this ceremony a bittersweet irony. 'Cavillatio causa'. I hope it is worth one of his famous wry grins.

I’ll deign to introduce him with one of his own poems. Being from Prince George you will all know this one: It is called “Bushed”

I am in a desert
of snow, each way
to go, presents an equal
choice, since the directions, &
what the eye sees is the same

if there were some sticks, you would
stay & build a house, or
a tree would give a place to climb
for perspective. if you had a match, when
the wind didn’t blow, you
would burn the tree for warmth, if
the wind didn’t blow & you had a match

there is this situation where love
would mean nothing. the sky is
possibly beautiful, yet the speculation
is impossible, & if you could sing, the song
is all that would go


(McKinnon, Barry. The Centre: Poems 1970-2000. Vancouver: Talon, 2005:. 2.)

I therefore have the honour to ask, Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of the
Senate of the University of Northern British Columbia, that you confer
on Barry Benjamin McKinnon the degree of Doctor of Laws, 'honoris causa.'"


At 11:00 AM, Blogger GP Lainsbury said...

Good to see Barry's contribution acknowledged in PG. Later this week he's going to receive an honorary associate of arts degree here at Northern Lights College.


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