Saturday, 9 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 55: Kevin MacNeil and Molly the Greyhound

Kevin MacNeil was born in Lewis and writes in both English and Gaelic. He writes an enormous number of things, including award winning novels, plays, radio plays, short stories and essays. Like many writers from islands he is not insular at all, having a fascination for other cultures, in particular the literature, poetry and philosophy of Japan, which features in a lot of his work, most specifically the fascinating miscellany 'Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides' published in 1998. His other books include four novels, the short stories of Iain Crichton Smith which he edited, and in 2017 an anthology of Robert Louis Stevenson’s essays and stories.

'Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides' won the Tivoli Europa Giovani International Prize in 2000. His other collections are 'Be Wise Be Otherwise'  in 2001), the anthology 'These Islands, We Sing' in 2011 and in 2015 'Struileag: Shore to Shore', an anthology celebrating the Gaelic diaspora.

Here he reads his response to the Japanese poet Kenji Miyazawa's poem 'Strong in the Rain'. It is called 'More Transparent than Rain'. As Kevin fades slowly from view on the right of the screen his beautiful and haunting words are enhanced somehow by Molly the rescue greyhound's zen-like calm.

The text of ‘More Transparent than Rain’ and more information here:

Kevin's Website:

A very recent short story, written the day before the virus arrived in the Outer Hebrides:

Some information about Kenji Miyazawah:

A Poem by Kevin in English and Gaelic reprinted from Northwords Now 38:

air plèana a tha mar chorrag a’ comharrachadh ris a’ ghealaich

air plèana a tha mar chorrag a’ comharrachadh ris a’ ghealaich
I am but a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t look at me; look at the moon. – Traditional Zen teaching

All experiences are preceded by mind, having mind as their master, created by mind. - The Buddha Shakyamuni

tha am plèana seo cho mìorbhaileach ri sutra,
a' fàgail tagharlaich an t-saoghail

a' togail ar trom dhinn, agus eadhan
gar togail fhinn dhan h-iarmailt falamh

tha am plèana seo mar a' chorrag ainmeil ud
a' comharrachadh ris a' ghealaich…

dùisg a-nis - agus sin i, soilleir, àlainn, àraid
a' ghealach a' deàrrsadh os cionn Beinn Fuji,

mar ìomhaigh anns an sutra mhac-meanmnach
eu-comasach anns a bheil sinn beo

a-màireach, bheir mi a' ghealach dhachaigh -
oir rugadh air thalamh i - agus seallaidh mi dhi

gun deach ar corragan a chruthachadh
a stuth nan reultan, agus nam b' urrainn

dha na speuran ar smuaintean a leughadh
gun tuigeadh iad gu bheil sinn uile fhathast

a' deàrrsadh - can, os cionn Beinn Fuji - neo-realta
agus fior, mar am mac-meanmna a chur air dòigh

an aon sgeulachd anns a bheil sinn a' gabhail pàirt, sinne
a tha uaireannan fuar mar a' ghealach, neo mar ìomhaigh dhinn

ann an sgàthan nach fhaicear, sinne a tha uaireannan eile
teth mar an t-seann sradag a chruthaich sinn 's a bhoillsgeas

a-rithist annainn nuair a chi sinn nach eil sinn
a' coimhead air a' chorrag idir neo air a' ghealach fhèin
ach air mac-meanmna siubhlach, fiosaigeach, neo-chrìochnach, mar a' chruinne-cè

this plane is as marvellous as a sutra,
rising above the turmoil of the world

relieving us of our burden,
lifting us into the empty firmament

this plane is like the famous finger
pointing at the moon…

wake up - there she is, clear, stunning,
the moon shining over Mount Fuji

like an image in the fantastical
impossible sutra in which we live

tomorrow i shall bring the moon home -
for she was born on earth - and I'll show her

our fingers are formed of star-stuff, and if
the stars could read our thoughts they'd see

that we all still shine - over Mount Fuji, let's say - unreal
and true, like the imagination that initiated

the one story in which we all take part, we who
are sometimes cold, like the moon or like an image

of us in an invisible mirror, we who are sometimes hot
like the ancient spark that formed that us and that

reappears inside us when we see we are not
looking at the finger nor even at the moon but
at an imagination, fleeting, physical, boundless, as the universe

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