Every now and again, pronouncing fire and brimstone,/ He snatches at an unsuspecting trout/ And stands with a lump in his throat.
The congregation of midges laughs at him in Gaelic;/ He only prays for them, head bent into grey rain,/ As a lark sings psalms half a mile above.”
This was the first poem I think I ever read by Scots poet Kenneth Steven, and I was hooked! (I had to write the lines with a dash between them as this s0ftware does double spacing when you drop down to a new line or paragraph.)
I love his descriptions! What about his poem about collecting eggs at a farm every Saturday when he was a boy, “The whole yard strutted/ And bagpiped with chickens. I always feared the dogs – / Two streamlined waterfalls of black and white,/ Tongues like hot bacon, their barks/ Gunning my heart with fear……..” and “The eggs were still warm,/ Dunged and tickled with straw./ We squeaked them in sixes into boxes,……” (polystyrene obviously!)
Then “The night before a great moon full of honey/ Had flowed up behind the hills and poured across the fields.” He and a friend “walked to the loch, left two trails/ Through the grass, came on the mushrooms by accident.
A village of strewn white hats/ The folds of their gills underneath as soft as skin.”
Kenneth was reading some of his poetry last night in a yurt pitched on the Green beside the river, just one of the venues in the local Arts Festival, and it is with his permission that I quote from his poems here.
Strangely it was because I wrote to him some months ago asking for permission to quote from “the Heron”, that he was appearing in the festival at all! He had replied that I was welcome to use the poem and commented on how much he liked Peebles. He would like to do a poetry reading here sometime, perhaps during the festival. I knew who to ask to get the ball rolling – and that was how we got him!
It was lovely sitting round on chairs for some, and cushions for those able to get down to ground level – and more importantly, up again – in the small intimate surroundings of the round Mongolian-style tent, with woven carpets beneath us and the walls decorated with cloth throws, great chunks of extravagant colours stitched together in wild patchwork! There was a stove in the middle, burning peat briquettes, the long thin flue eventually disappearing through the roof, and lamps, some battery operated and others with tea lights in them, hung around the walls just below the curve of the roof. The rain was falling outside, “finger tickling the roof” as Kenneth described it, and reminding me of camping expeditions of the past!!!!!
We heard several of his poems, many about the spirituality of the Scottish highlands and islands, before he took a break when Alison and a friend played fiddle and guitar, slow tunes, from as far as Shetland, faster ones that had our feet tapping…. Then there were more poems and a final tune from the fiddle and guitar.
Afterwards we had the opportunity to chat with Kenneth, and talk about his poems, swap stories. I even discovered we had a good friend in common! Amazing! Small world! And so I came home - it was still raining and I don’t think it has stopped since – to leaf through my books of his poems to reread and remember.
Talk again soon.