Book: Kill-site: Poems

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Kill-site: Poems

Author: Tim Lilburn
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

To his virtuoso collection of new poems, Tim Lilburn brings a philosopher’s mind and the eyes and ears of a marsh hawk. This series of earthy meditations makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange. Lilburn’s close study of goldenrod, an ice sheet, or night opens into surprising interior and subterranean worlds. Pythagoras lurks within the poplars, Socrates in stones, people fly below the ground. Elsewhere, the human presence of motels and beer parlours is ominous. Kill-site is an exploration of a human’s animal nature. Lilburn invites the reader to: “Go below the small things… then / walk inside them and you have their kindness.” Though a natural progression from Lilburn’s last book, To the River, in Kill-site, the poet moves toward a greater understanding of the human, of sacrifice.


Tim Lilburn is one of our only living authors capable of writing spiritually charged nature poetry that genuinely works. Most writers who attempt this sort of thing produce flaky, decorative, and empty verse. Kill-site, on the other hand, is an incredibly rich book, a cycle of poems that gives its readers a linguistic experience that one might encounter on a camping trip in northern Saskatchewan in the company of Thomas Merton, William Blake, Gary Snyder, and Sheila Watson.

Kill-site is one of Lilburn’s more difficult books, for his eclectic and (to the average reader) obscure readings are on flamboyant display: medieval Christian monasticism and mysticism, Socratic philosophy, Chinese and Japanese philosophy and poetry, and modern cinema are locked in a metaphysical dialogue with the land of the northern prairie. In a typical passage
Plato is talking with John Scotus Eriugena; a young woman, asleep in her
back of the throat body, from a class in advanced poetry; Julian of Norwich,
with her neck-bell of blood; Isaac of Stella and The Cloud of Unknowing;
they’ve come in off the range for the night and are under the ground,
whickering orange-winged grasshoppers around them,
dust, an angry stray dog, a buffalo-scented, mudfooted moon.

To unravel this sort of verse it is necessary to trust the author absolutely, and as a result Kill-site is not an ideal introduction to Lilburn’s work. Readers who haven’t encountered him before should try his 1999 collection, To the River, which showcases his rich and sensuous lyrical style without being quite so philosophically abstruse. Longtime Lilburn-readers, however, will find Kill-site to be one of his most challenging, vivid, and satisfying books. —Jack Illingworth

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