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Kenneth Steven
Wildscape
Peterloo Poets £7.95

 

After a long and varied writing career Kenneth Steven’s selected works of poetry Wildscape, has finally appeared; featuring poetry from a number of his works, it follows the cycle of a poetic year which traverses the woods, cliffs and coasts of Steven’s continuous inspiration, the Scottish countryside.
It is always difficult to condense quite an illustrious career into such a small span, particularly one such as this (a fifty five page odyssey) there is always a risk that a collection of selected works may misrepresent or fail to do justice to the poet, making the organization of such a book a precarious undertaking. But while in its construction Wildscape may miss the breadth of Steven’s writing, it certainly plumbs the depths of his poetry.
Wildscape is the concentration of a long romance with Scotland’s beauty, a wonderment of its lonely spirits, its mythical wilderness and its edge of the world peace, all sung out with pristine crispness. Steven’s precision of phrase is one thing that has made him an author of much loved poetry, and this is certainly something that shines through in Wildscape. The poems in this collection grip onto the very essence of the land they pay homage to, whether this essence is found in ‘the low sun flinting the house’ of an evening, or the ‘guttural rushing of syllables’ that is a muddied mire, Steven manages to draw out the sensory eminence of his subject again and again, observing it with a keen eye, ear and sense of touch.
This texture of sense is crafted most effectively in the comparisons Steven draws through simile and metaphor; there is something deeply empathetic about dogs with ‘tongues like hot bacon’ and a lonely heron who is nothing more or less than ‘a Presbyterian minister’. In this way the small miracles of nature and experience become linked with life beyond it, for example in The Frogs, Steven shows us a car inching between a migration of frogs at night as though this was a movement as familiar to the reader as the way ‘a cyclist/might wobble his way between walls’, allowing us to experience the wild world as though it were part of our own. Wildscape demonstrates Steven’s ability to move beyond artistic description, here we best see how he takes the moments and images that have so inspired him, and attempts to make them just as meaningful to his reader.
Reading Wildscape I am thoroughly appreciative of Steven’s fine phrasing and the way he positions the reader into the very centre of his subject, but there are moments in this selected works when I am brought back too starkly to the previous themes and words of other poets. In The Novemberland ‘the car panthering the lanes’ is reminiscent of the animalism applied in Ted Hughes’ ‘Pike’, just as the curlew calls that resound in Wildscape are echoed in Hughes’ ‘The Horses’. These ghosts of repetition suggest how Wildscape explores nothing we haven’t already read before; it is an exploration (albeit a profound and eloquent one) of a tired subject, the countryside being something that has inspired generations of poets before Steven. One has to wonder, that although Steven’s work has previously inspired and stilled us, whether it will continue to be relevant.

Catherine Woodward

 

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