I first discovered Kenneth C. Steven, as did the previous reviewer, when I read THE MISSING DAYS. I was struck then by his strong, unapologetic voice, a voice sensitive to nature in general and the landscapes and people-scapes of his native Scotland in particular. Perthshire was the main landscape in that collection ; the West Coast of Scotland, and especially the island of Iona, takes centre-stage in this one.
Steven's voice is still strong and apologetic. Young himself, he laments the passing of many of the old ways of the Hebrides and especially the dying of the Gaelic language (at least on Iona, where I don't believe anyone speaks it now; on Lewis and Harris, it is a different story)."The old ones read the land and the sea like books ;/They understood the skies, they listened to the rain,/ They did what the winter told them.//Now almost all of them have gone . . ." This sense of loss occurs several times, weaving a skein of lament throughout the book. One of the strongest-and simplest-poems, "Logie",mourns the death of one of the young men who drowned off Iona in 1998 when their dinghy capsized. Steven approaches this sideways, by way of a childhood memory, and there is no uncomfortable sense of ambulance-chasing and appropriation. There is an equally strong thread of celebration as Steven explores in beautifully-observed poems the lives of larks, the gymnastics of an otter, the birth of lambs in the winter, and the hospitality of the people themselves.
All this, this sense of tradition and history, this celebration of rootedness, makes Steven an unfashionable poet and simultaneously a popular one. No suburban ironies here, no poems as slick as TV advertisements. What also makes him unfashionable is that he is not afraid to mention God. But this God is no thundering Jehovah or, to use a more aptly Scottish image, a Calvinist in his towering pulpit, but a God who is present in the weathers and the creatures, as in the marvellous "Lamb" : "And his legs melted away like wax ;/ He cried a single time./ I went closer, on soft and reverent feet./ And this was suddenly a Bethlehem,/His voice a child's, as vulnerable as Christ's." The poet I'm most reminded of when I read Kenneth C. Steven is George Mackay Brown. Who was also an unfashionable poet.
Even if you think you don't like poetry, try this.