There is a haunting beauty to The Wedding Reels as Rankin returns to the traditional roots she mined in her best-selling At My Mother’s Door. But in The Wedding Reels she has dared to go to the heart of moments of grief and doubt that we so often carry alone, and for which we rarely have the words.
In the first half of the book, where one expects the joy of the dance, there is instead a seemingly irrevocable sadness. Poem by poem, the worst that life can throw is realized and faced — and instead of driving the poet under, Rankin reaches for those things that might sustain: neighbours and family and the history of place — the things that help a person to go on. A small miracle takes place in this group of powerful poems — that love actually is able to survive and to abide.
This seems so much for these 36 poems to bear, and yet The Wedding Reels is a tough, bold and brave book. Its secrets seem to be there even in David Stephens’ impeccable painting on the cover, a painting that is deceptively joyous until one thinks again of that lone boat on the water, against the wharf, its only partner its own reflection — and the houses that each stand alone on the hills, and the dark gaping doorway of the shed.
These are the intimate poems of a daring Cape Breton storyteller — frank, clear and unforgettable. They follow on the huge success of Rankin’s first book, At My Mother’s Door, the book poet George Elliott Clarke called “a hymn to survival and settlement.”
Not for the faint of heart, The Wedding Reels is a lovely and noble achievement, written in the face of some of the worst that life can throw our way. There has been tragedy, a sort of human train wreck from which no one would be expected to walk away. And the poet, telling the story, unsettles us – we reel, you might say. She shares, and, in having told the story, eventually finds her legs. Somewhere between passing the all-knowing undertaker in her small town and in what an older woman conveys to young women about what they might expect from life — in remembrance of beach days and family and physical love — this book works toward balance, stops reeling, and achieves the capacity to live on.
The launch party of The Wedding Reels will begin at 7pm on Thursday. There is no charge. There will be light refreshments, and everyone is welcome. Rankin will give a reading and a short talk, there will be a display of paintings by David Stephens, who produced the book’s winning cover, and music by Blaine Aikens and friends.
The Wedding Reels is published by Breton Books. It is a 56-page book and sells for $16.00. ISBN 978-1-926908-15-1. The Wedding Reels is available across Canada through Nimbus Publishing, in stores in Cape Breton and direct from Breton Books at capebretonbooks.com.