About Lachlan Mackinnon
Lachlan Mackinnon is a poet, scholar and critic. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 1986, followed by collections Monterey Cyprus ( Chatto & Windus, 1988), The Coast of Bohemia (Chatto & Windus, 1991), The Jupiter Collisions (Faber & Faber, 2003) & Small Hours (Faber & Faber, 2010) which was shortlisted for the Forward Prize that year. In 2011 he won a Cholmondeley Award, which he has followed up with collections Doves (Faber & Faber, 2017) and The Missing Months (Faber & Faber, 2022).
He has written widely for the national press, particularly the Times Literary Supplement and The Independent. He has written academic talks and papers on a variety of subjects in both English and French.
Mackinnon has been writing for a long time. His poetry career alone spans three decades, and an equally broad palette of styles and ideas. The works collated here, however, speak to his and our contemporary histories. A rain-soaked navigation of grief, British in its resignation to quiet departures; of the poets peers, of a pre-austerity optimism, and as synthesis of these, of the ailing momentum of a generation on the precipice of entropy.
Death here sits gently in all things. In Lockdown: Granddaughter it is “Laid down in her like a layer of soil / Black with the sacking of a city.” Mackinnon witnesses the pandemic-borne return of casual mortality to the lips of British children – with a despair he need only gesture towards. Similarly, in Thank You the poet sees death as foundational to our every-day social transactions, “making ready perhaps / when the ferryman dumps us / on the sulphurous shore / to thank him too. The volcanic sediment of death is with us from the beginning, but a society in momentum can ritualise it into the background of routine. Not so when sealed inside and forced into stasis.
In Small Hours:
runs carelessly down the walls
Of every room”
Is followed by
“Yesterday, two printed
death-announcements arrested me…”
Though nominally separate, the two observations fit around and flow one to the other. Rain cannot have brought these deaths and yet in reading we cannot help but feel it did. The poet is arrested here because he cannot look away, hemmed in by endless water as he is. Illusions of immortality, drowned.
Mackinnon blends scepticism with uncertain hope. In “Canute” the monarch laments how his debasement before the elements is so quickly misread as hubris, yet even he cannot help but ponder the possibility and allure of monarchic myth: “… no special powers. / And yet one wonders…”
Ultimately, Mackinnon is wrangling with the un-ceremony, the stark realness of human death, and the pressure points where that unavoidable matter comes up against the mythic feeling of our griefs, loves, traditions & memories. His is an uncannily quiet apocalypse. “…Some unrevealing / death notices and one police report” in Nocturne; in A Pang, “a face on the pub wall / with wiry gray / swept hair.”
Yet, in each respective poem are summoned visions. Nocturne’s memories of the birds “ecstatic sound” immortalise the rich potential of the poet’s lost, diminished friend, and more importantly his innate worth as a person alive. Or the intimate error that was or is A Pang’s Jaan Kaplinski, of whom Mackinnon must beseech the “…always / no longer there…”
“…Pat / forgive me.”
The preciousness of that which cannot be reclaimed, the need to keep static what we know must go. Lachlan crafts space for our unheeded calls to the past, and grants reprieve to the Canute in all of us; that it is natural and necessary to wish, to wonder.
After all “From any now the line to Homer / …” as with all preserved dreamers “…is always open.”
Recordings made at the Sound House Studio, West London on 3rd March 2023.