English-Gaelic poems offer a lyrical slice of Cape Breton heritage

Rudan Mì-bheanailteach is an Cothroman, Dàin/ Intangible Possibilities, Poems
by Lewis MacKinnon
$14.95, paperback, 120 pp.
Cape Breton University Press, October 2014

Rudan Mi-bheanailteach is an CothromanNova Scotia’s Lewis MacKinnon’s poetry book Intangible Possibilities is a harvest of multi-layered tradition, written in English and Gaelic translation. In a way, the duality of both texts side-by-side on the page offers an introspective divide. Being non-fluent in Gaelic, it’s fascinating to read a poem in English first, and then for a second time, attempt to understand MacKinnon’s mother tongue, a language with beautiful complexities and lyricism.

“Lament for Alistair MacLeod,” immortalizes the legendary Cape Breton writer, as the speaker of the poem sits over a drink with Alistair amongst the trinity – “Literature on the right/ Poetry on the left/ And the spirit in the middle.” The poem, “Agenda-less Table,” is an offering for seekers, and wanderers alike: “The guests may eat and drink a rich harvest of language/ and culture spread out;/ foods, poetry, music, customs/ belief, dance, stories, songs,/ tales;” and the second time in the text MacKinnon uses the word “poem,” in a poem, which takes readers out of the work, and creates a self-conscious, potentially self-reflexive sense of meta-poetics.

One of the darker poems in the collection, “The Final Marriage,” embodies the duplicity of love and loss. He writes, “I desire everything,/ I desire nothing,” and subtly dances within the contradictions, ending the poem with a potent punch – “I am all this/ And I am nothing in the eternity of the elements.”

As a collection, MacKinnon offers a lyrical slice of Cape Breton heritage, as he is a poet, writer, singer, musician and teacher who has devoted his life to Gaelic development in Nova Scotia, and gives readers a place to land at the edge of the cliff, overlooking an endless Atlantic Ocean. Intangible Possibilities is a stunning East Coast vista.

Rudan Mì-bheanailteach is an Cothroman, Dàin/ Intangible Possibilities, Poems
by Lewis MacKinnon
$14.95, paperback, 120 pp.
Cape Breton University Press, October 2014

Written By

Shannon Webb-Campbell is a mixed Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) settler poet, writer and critic. Her forthcoming book, Who Took My Sister? (Book Thug, 2018) explores Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, decolonial poetics, trauma and the land, and will be transformed into a touring classical music performance for violin and piano. Still No Word (Breakwater, 2015) was the recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of British Columbia, a BA from Dalhousie University, and studies English Literature at Memorial University. Shannon is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation and currently lives in Montreal.

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