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'Coracle' Poems by Kenneth Steven - a review

The latest collection from one of Scotland's leading poets will help bring a pause to our busy lives

Poems by Kenneth Steven
ISBN 978 0 281 07209 5 
Reviewed by Shaun Lambert

These poems emerge unsmudged into the mist of our distracted lives, bringing a clarity and focus of attention that arrest us, as readers or listeners. For surely these poems should be heard with a living voice and by an attentive ear.

Important things that have become vague in our memory, lost in the field of the past, suddenly appear again in the foreground, refigure in our hearts, and are found again as treasure.

Each poem, like a bell, has a different sound. The closer you get to the poem, the more times you read it, the clearer the sound becomes. I took the poems around with me for a period of weeks whenever I wanted to find a mindful place, a mindful pause.

There is no experiential avoidance here. The skin is peeled back on pain with a fierce tenderness. Truth is exposed and not sold as anything less. And yet the poet recognises gifts that emerge from life itself, unasked for, but welcomed like life-giving water.

There is compassion here. The words, like waves, like wings, like light, lap at our own self-judgements, exposing them and softening them. Perhaps there on the edge of things, in the fragile coracle of our bodies, we find the centre – the possibility of forgiveness, of redemption.

The poet writes with a lyrical perspective. The poems are located in intense moments of time that have a significance beyond themselves. In my favourite poem Enough, in the line ‘The trees held in a bonfire of the last sun’, the trees hold us, as they held the poet. The moment is enough to make us pause and be still and wait. We feel something of what the author feels, and our own awareness, our own embodied emotions, are stirred and brought to life.

There are no false alarms here, but a reality-focused lens at work. A way of seeing that can focus its attention on symbolic details and then sweep backwards into an open panoramic awareness that draws the reader in. These poems are like songs, songs of experience and innocence. They are songs that can be sung by others.

Shaun Lambert is an author and Baptist minister


Baptist Times, 29/08/2014
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