The Last Elk In Burwash, Ontario

Let there be too much. You will know

it when you see it. You will call it

what it is. Most days, the sky seems a kind

of diagram, today’s being

the shape of what you will

not know when you need

to most. More and more, I am

tired, desperate, desiring also,

and waiting. For what? For years,

this has been happening. Once, one time,

I stayed late with him. Night normally

a kind of concession, but not

now. That now that now

means then. We were walking

back along the highway. I looked

at the face of my friend who had the face

of a friend. Who had done this? His hand

wide along the wide

end of the open elk’s neck,

gone because too little

blood left in, too much

time gone, going. The night

was written out above.

What did we know? The field we laid

it down in was blank.

No death was not our own.




Questions and Answers

Owen Torrey is a writer and student from Toronto. His poetry and non-fiction have recently appeared in CBC Books, Hello Mr., Exclaim!, The Harvard Advocate, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere. He has been featured at the Toronto International Book Fair and long-listed for the 2020 CBC-Radio Canada Poetry Prize. Owen is currently studying History & Literature at Harvard University.


How/where do you find inspiration today?

For parts of the past year, when routines of daily life were particularly narrow, I looked for beginnings of poems in the things most proximate to me: neighborhood elm trees, jars of pickled okra, the things I was reading for coursework. I study history, so these readings were often about the past. After losing the ability to write for months, it was both a joy and a surprise to find ideas for poems tucked away in archival sources—recalled scenes, scraps of phrases, other voices to be in dialogue with on the page. One source I read described what might seem, at first, like an improbable poetic subject: a history of elk population management in Ontario. Months later, however, I was surprised to find traces of that reading surface in the poem published here. It was a helpful reminder, for me, that “inspiration” is something that often takes time to accumulate and develop, before it circles back unexpectedly on the page, as an echo.


How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?

I wrote this poem in early winter last year. The first half of its opening line (“Let there be too much”) had been hovering in my head for a few days. I tend to need a firm first line before I can begin to draft a poem—it’s something to grasp onto and jimmy a bit, in order to open up the space of the poem itself. Once those five words were on the page, a full draft followed quite quickly. The most substantial revision the poem then went through was a formal one. I attempted various things: welding the lines into couplets, stitching them together into one uninterrupted stanza. Nothing felt quite right. I ultimately arrived at the poem’s form as it appears here—a collection of separate, single lines—which felt immediately right, for the extra air it allowed the page to hold, the distinct attention it gave to each fragment of line.

This poem “The Last Elk In Burwash, Ontario” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 248 (2022): 116-117.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.