An independent small press poetry review

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Saint Andrew Press
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ISBN 0 7152 0822 5

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COLUMBA is the eighth collection from established novelist, children's author and poet, Kenneth Steven. This volume draws inspiration from the journey of the sixth-century Irish monk to Western Scotland.

It is clear from the first few lines that Steven has a gift for creating a living, breathing landscape. The title poem, COLUMBA, draws the reader straight to the land.

	A film lies across the water meadows
	like a muslin shawl. Birds lament
	among rushes, their voices trailing
	like beads of glass. The sun has not been born yet,
	remains under woods and hills.
This is the land in which Columba walks, meditates, and finds his inspiration:
	Here at the water meadow's end he finds the Christ
	ripe in his heart, his lips brim with words
	that soar like larks into the sky,
	almost as if some spring of light and joy
	wells from the ground beneath.
Steven writes with a timelessness and gentleness that make the finished poems appear deceptively simple. However,closer reading reveals poetic skills exploited to full effect. This is apparent in such poems as ORKNEY:
	Each island breathes it's history easily, effortlessly.
Notice how those lengthened syllables echo the breaths of the land.


	The yachts in the harbour clinking and rocking
	In the huge grey beast of a wind.
Again, carefully chosen words enable the reader to both hear and see those boats and to experience the magnitude of the wind. Having spent a particularly miserable day in Penzance, I can relate well to the bleak landscape Steven describes and also to the promise of spring appearing at the close of the poem.

His poems resound with the rhythms and cycles of nature and where his subject turns to man, it is often to show him as a finite quantity against the backdrop of the eternal cycle of nature. In SOLDIER, we find an eighteen year old boy being sent off to war.

	Breathe this wind one last time, boy,
	Before you leave, and put this spring day
	Deep in the safety of your heart
	Like a photograph, to fray and tatter, precious -
	For you will not come back this way again.
Once more, it is nature, the spring, the wind, that is given a starring role. Throughout, man is a product of nature. He is within the land with nature as his unchallengeable master.

The fifty poems in this collection, including eight prose poems, are readable on a superfluous level yet offer deeper meaning and appreciation on each subsequent reading. There is much to be said for this collection and it is certainly one to which I will return time and time again.

reviewer: Susan Woollard.