Kevin MacNeil's poetry in 'Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides' has both the freshness of youth and the wisdom of experience. As is the case with most who grow up in Lewis, MacNeil is profoundly affected by the elements, especially the sea, the roaring Minch, which for Hebrideans is both a constant presence in and influence on their lives. This relationship with nature is omnipresent in MacNeil's writing, as it is in the poetry of Skye's Aonghas MacNeacail. MacNeil has obviously digested the writing of Aonghas MacNeacail and Sorley MacLean, but his work is not derivative; rather, his is a fresh voice, often a more playful voice, a voice that fearlessly channels joy, pain and longing into beautifully descriptive language.
As a debut anthology, this is a staggering achievement. That MacNeil is a fearless writer is unquestionable. There's a little too much longing, however, and not enough simply being for this to be a pure example of Zen writing. Perhaps if the anthology had been titled 'Love and Longing in the Outer Hebrides' I'd have awarded it the full five stars. Longing, after all, is a feeling which has spawned poetic flourishes since the dawn of literature, but a feeling that is not part of the Zen way. Zen is about accepting and fully experiencing what is, not longing for what is not. That point aside, Kevin MacNeil at his most eloquently descriptive is a joy to read. If you want a book of truly unique poetry by a talent unafraid to feel with his own heart, think with his own mind, and speak with his own voice, then buy this. If you want a book that encapsulates Zen, buy 'Zen Flesh, Zen Bones'.