Nova 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