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This review is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

Cover of Doves
Sue LeighBread for the spirit Lachlan Mackinnon, Doves (Faber, 2017) £14.99

Doves is Lachlan Mackinnon’s fifth collection and follows Small Hours (shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Poetry in 2010). Mackinnon is a poet who thinks seriously about the world, and he ranges over love, death, spirituality, philosophy, ecology, science, mathematics and language. His expansive territory encompasses Meinong’s theory of objects, detective fiction, algebra, Shakespeare’s brothers, Humboldt’s parrot, a humanist funeral…

The title poem, in memory of Seamus Heaney, suggests that ‘bread for the spirit’ can be found everywhere in daily life if only we would ‘allow ourselves / to marvel’– as the speaker himself does at the two collared doves that come to his window, ‘a visitation […] of something / unstained and pure’. Heaney’s poetic vision stirs us too to marvel: ‘the country boy’s / gape and gawp at the world […] through which so much / came in to be transfigured’. But we must also consider what makes us civil and humane. ‘Poetry’s task’, the poem concludes, ‘is the marvellous in the ordinary / and losses to be tholed’ (‘thole’, a word of Anglo-Saxon origin and important to Heaney, in the sense ‘to suffer’).

There are elegies for other poets – Joseph Brodsky, Wislawa Szymborska, Dennis O’Driscoll – and also for friends, some of whom remain nameless. The poet frequently converses with the dead (as he did in the moving series of prose poems, ‘The Book of Emma’ in Small Hours). In ‘Nocturne’ he addresses a late friend, ‘bohemian and bookish’, with whom he had lost touch: ‘At our age, when we ...

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