Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Two Sides of the Pass

Maoilios Caimbeul is to the left of the image. In the middle is Mark O. Goodwin, and to the right artist Eoghann Mac Colla.

Maoilios Caimbeul and Mark O. Goodwin

Skye - photo by Ishbel MacFarlane
"I was struck by the great sadness of this landscape ..."
In the second of our Scottish Highland trilogy of podcasts, Ryan is up in Portree chatting to Gaelic poet Maoilios Caimbeul (Myles Campbell) and English poet Mark O. Goodwin about their recent collection, The Two Sides of the Pass (Two Ravens Press, 2009), a conversation in poems across two languages and the landscape of the Isle of Skye. Produced by Colin Fraser. Incidental music by Ewen Maclean.
First published 25 January, 2010 

 The Two Sides of the Pass/Dà Thaobh aBhealaich 
Maoilios Caimbeul + Mark O. Goodwin
Dear Mark...

I have been reading The Two Sides of the Pass again, soaking up the specificities, whilst wandering about through the scents and sounds and the birdtalk of Australian spring.

I am enjoying the book in a lot of different ways, the poetry is (as you know) solid, well-constructed, and the two voices interplay with the same worldbase, bringing in the rafts of cultural references that call the wide world to the wee island, bears up to repeated reads and contemplations. I've never been to Scotland or to England, and so, the landscapes and the moments called to mind are prairie dust, and the green fruity isles off the west coast where friends from the city relocate themselves (to the point where all the rurality becomes supplanted by suburban flavours). (I have been to Quebec & Trois Rivieres, however.)
Of course, looking around here is worthwhile too, the prairie-esque Melbourne region and the Sydney harbour reminiscent of BC (where i live). Browsing around the book shops this mornng, I found an aged annual, Australian Poetry 1947, published here in Sydney.

The world captured in the contrasting poetries is clearly the same world, but far-flung in its intimacies: different time, different land, different flora--
I know not where I go-- whence from?--
Or how my journey was begun?
Or who the goddess of this place,
So deep in trees? The silent sun,
Defeated, yields mere twilight trace:
I know not where I go? Whence from?--
Or who the goddess of this place?
That from a poem by Hugh McCrae, which ends with a doomed indigenous goddess & biblical reference... 
[27 sept 2010]

by Eoghann Mac Colla.
From an interview with Mark O. Goodwin:
Can you tell us something about the inspiration behind this work in particular? And about what you were trying to achieve; what ideas you were trying to convey?

Well, Maoilios, of course, and his poems, some of which I read in An Tuil. I was also struck by the sadness I found in the landscape on my first visits to Skye and tried to find out more about why I was registering this. Years ago I had listened to Gaelic psalms and songs on recordings from the School of Scottish Studies, and it was the memory of this and the chance of seeing Sorley Maclean at the South Bank Poetry Festival, London, in 1994 that got me to think again about poetry. More about reading it more intensively than writing it at first. And then the idea came about to write something to try and understand the place I was now calling home, but wasn’t home, and all the anxieties that came with this, of intrusion, being out of place. Of trying to settle in. That is partly why there are references to other poets in the book, mingling with the poems we were writing and exchanging. I would not have attempted any of this if it had not been for Maoilios’ generosity, inquisitiveness, and sheer playfulness.
The drawings for the book – how did they come about?

Maoilios asked Eòghann what he thought about the idea of doing some drawings for the book when he was Artist in Residence at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig during 2008. He spent a memorable afternoon with us looking at a map of North Skye and making a detailed list of all the places we had mentioned in the poems, or places which had a special significance for us. His drawings added another dimension to the book. I guess literature and art have often been mutual companions in the discussion about how a landscape is lived.

Did the fact that your poems were being translated at the same time that they were written affect your work?

No, I don’t think so. What I mean is, I wrote from my experience without being troubled too much by the difficulties I might cause Maoilios. He got the full force of an incomer’s version of events! But for the purposes of the book this was positive because I was not inhibited in the way I was writing the poems. Maoilios never asked me to change anything just to make it easier to translate into Gaelic. Occasionally, we would phone each other up and talk about what was going on in the poem. I know, in the end some of the poems caused endless difficulties.
 "Publishers of contemporary books about nature, place and the environment, and of the new, unique and beautiful"   EarthLines magazine

I would love to see a project of collaborations like this taken up in every region of Canada, creating linkages between the "always been here" and the "incomer" poets, weaving the varieties of language and perspective on landscape/seascape/habits/home. What a wealth that would be, for every one, to begin the process of unifying our worlds, and to begin to speak to & hear from one another in the rich languages of our poetries.

Beautiful bilingual book, highly recommended.


Visit the poets: 

podcast, Scottish Poetry Library, interview with the poets, image and intro from SPL,
further reading: Poem from the collection, "Skye"

my letter to Mark, extract from the archives

images of contributing artists, book cover, logo, and image from within,
from Two Ravens website,
interview with Mark O. Goodwin,

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