Kathy Mac

Dr. Kathleen McConnell, who publishes poetry, plays, and what she calls ‘lyric articles’ under the pen name Kathy Mac, was born on July 17th, 1961, in Peterborough, Ontario. Her father was Paul Goodwin McConnell, an electrical engineer from Waterhole, Alberta; her mother Gwendolyn Patricia Greer was from Edmonton. Mac was raised in Peterborough, Ontario and has lived since 2002 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where she teaches in the English Department at St. Thomas University and is an active member of local writing and performance groups. She spends part of each summer writing in Sambro Head, Nova Scotia.

Mac moved from Ontario to Halifax to study at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), earning her BFA in Art History in 1986. Work followed as editor, graphic designer, poetry instructor, and (significant for her second book) self-described “Hundefräulein” or dog-sitter to Elisabeth Mann Borgese, the oceans activist and daughter of writer Thomas Mann. Mac returned to university for formal study in English literature, receiving her BA from Mount Saint Vincent University in 1993, followed by an MA from Wilfrid Laurier (1994) and a PhD from Dalhousie University (2001).

Mac’s university career and scholarly projects are central to her creative work. She works in the emerging middle-ground genre of lyric scholarship, a hybrid form of scholarly research and literary text. Described as “an ongoing wrestling match between creativity and analysis” (Omar 128), the form, Mac says, “pulls connections together that I don’t know I would have gotten otherwise” (qtd. in Lahey 22). Mac places her third book, Porn, Pain, and Complicity: Women Heroes from Pygmalion to Twilight (2013)—published by a literary not an academic press—firmly in this lyric scholarship genre. Her pen name originally distinguished her creative work from her scholarship, but these lines are becoming increasingly and deliberately blurred. Today, this hybrid mode of thinking and writing is a signature mark of her work, contributing to the strikingly original style and bold, layered, conceptual approaches of her essays, plays, and poetry.

Mac has published two books of poetry. Her first book, Nail Builders Plan for Strength and Growth (2002), won the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada and was a finalist for the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry that year. A long poem from that book, “Tooke, Suitor to the Spectacular Givens,” received Dalhousie University’s Joseph Howe Poetry Award. Her second book, The Hundefräulein Papers (2009), documented the intense domestic and inter-species relationships in caring for the dogs of Elisabeth Mann Borgese. Written after Borgese’s death, it had, said one reviewer, “all the distinguishing Mac marks: experimental audacity; singularity of theme and content; an attractive playfulness admixed with transcendental gravity” (Higgins). Her work appears in several anthologies, including the Milton Acorn Memorial Anthology, the League of Canadian Poets’ More Garden Varieties, II, and Poets ’88. Since the late 1980s her individual poems have also been published in literary journals in Canada and abroad. From brief lyric poems to longer sequences, Mac strives to be structurally innovative, her patterned forms containing startling emotional softness and a wild, loose, intertextual play.

Mac is also known for her contribution to writing communities nationally and locally, organizing and participating in reading events, panels, workshops, fundraisers, conferences, and informal writing groups. She is a member of the League of Canadian Poets, doing editorial work on the Living Archives series produced by the Feminist Caucus; she belongs to the Writers’ Federations of both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia; she is active in the WolfTree Writers, a Fredericton-based women’s writing group; and she is a founding member of the Stand and Deliver performance group, originating at St. Thomas University in 2009.

In terms of her writing process, Mac is alert to chance connections of ideas, which she then carries through with formidable discipline. Pieces leap from personal experience, film releases, or news items. Her embrace of happenstance and her willingness to draw on a range of sources, from formal texts to ephemeral scraps, influences the result. The Hundefräulein Papers, as an example, contains obituary, animal sketches, want ads, poems, recipes, grocery lists, dog philosophy, and what reviewer Michael Higgins described as “a potpourri, gallimaufry, of lyrics, elegies, found poetry, anti-poems, testamentary tributes and personal anecdotes.” Mac herself describes her 138-line “Epithalamium for W.H. Auden” as “a textual nexus—poetry and prose; fiction and creative non-fiction; the Elizabethan memoir, same-sex marriage, gay rights, and allusions to a bunch of other things like rap music and the anxiety of influence” (“On Memoirs” 2).

Grief borne lightly is a stoic seam that runs through all her work, whether in her choice of focus, in her counterpointing of disparate texts, or in the sharp ache of particular lines. Feminist theory and practice, and power politics in general, also recur in Mac’s work. 

Engaged with her peers at the local, regional, and national levels, Mac’s work is original in conception and execution, erudite, and accessible. In addition to the awards mentioned above, Mac was a finalist for The Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry(2010, 2011) and has also received New Brunswick’s Alfred G. Bailey Prize (2012).

Human Misunderstanding (summary):

Human Misunderstanding is the latest work by award-winning poet Kathy Mac. The first of the book’s three long poems compares a fictional child soldier (a hero) with a real child soldier (a victim). The second juxtaposes eighteenth century philosophy with one person’s search for another in downtown Halifax. The final poem explores two court cases in which an immigrant faces deportation, and torture, if found guilty of assault in a Canadian court.

Reviews:

Kathy Mac sees inside language-as-propaganda, identifying all the twists and turns that facts suffer as they become half-truths or false justifications for evils. She knows and shows that the rhetoric of the War on Terror enacts a War on Truth. She accepts no substitutes for her truth-telling, which is liberating.

— George Elliott Clarke, Parliamentary Poet Laureate

Kathy Mac has what philosopher David Hume has called an “accurate knowledge of the internal fabric.” We misread, hurt, and destroy one another at every turn. Her spare, sharp poetic pierces the heart of what matters, what it might mean if we were both human and humane.

— Lorri Neilsen Glenn, author of Threading Light: Explorations in Loss & Poetry

WEBSITE