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Voices indoors and outdoors

22 November 2011

Martyn Halsall reads poetry full of Scottish weather and wonder


Evensong: Poems
Kenneth Steven
SPCK £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

WAXED jackets, strong boots, and perhaps a hip flask of something warming should accompany this latest collection from the Scottish poet Kenneth Steven. A Romantic and Celtic writer, he urges us to go outside to refresh our theological perspectives.With him as guide, we inhabit weather, in all its grandeur and menace.

Early poems evoke the un­certainty of being the subjects of climate, and also the frailty of a humanity that faces, daily, the echo of lost childhood which some would phrase “the Fall”. Steven’s outdoors is conditioned by wonder and loss.

We join those hearing “water voices trailing over fields” from birds discerned only by their sound “on windless white-blue summer nights” (“Curlews”). We meet chil­dren, dashing indoors to leave wild flowers before racing out again to run free (“Wild Irises”). When Steven encounters the poet John Clare, it is on a rescue mission to take him out of the asylum (“For John Clare”).

The tragedy of a drowning (“After­wards”) remains outdoors, with the anguished image of a mother peg­ging out her washing — “the morn­ing torn between blue and grey”— in redemptive necessity. Steven’s triptych on crucifixion and resur­rection (“Three Days”) only goes indoors “listening and locking doors, whispering Just in case” at its dark­est, before ending with lakeside reunion and restoration.

And, with his own eventual ar­rival for “Evensong, Ampleforth” at the end of this evocative, if oc­casion­ally uneven, collection, he remains the natural theologian joining “A Latin crossing to another land” while, still, “My life is open to the sky.”

Dr Halsall recently won the Jack Clemo Memorial Prize for poetry.

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