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'My Faith Permeates Everything I Write'

'My Faith Permeates Everything I Write'

Monday October 29 2018

Jackie Macadam meets poet and author Kenneth Steven

 

Kenneth Steven is a weel-kent name to readers of Life and Work and also to people who love prose and poetry with a natural spirituality to it.


Kenneth’s inspiration is drawn from nature – the nature he sees around him in his Argyll home, and the nature that is an integral part of him and the place his heart belongs to, Iona.

“I think my writing begins and ends with what I like to term wildscape. I was privileged in growing up first and foremost in Highland Perthshire: I had parents who knew the great outdoors, who took me to visit Hebridean islands and croft houses in the Highlands. I walked over Rannoch Moor and I was taken to see eagles and otters. And I had the freedom to explore: that was also an escape from the school world.

“I developed a passion for wild places, and for wild creatures. It was what doubtless spawned my love for conservation, and that tied in with the deepest roots of my faith. This was a God-created world; it was a wonderful and extraordinary beautiful world.

“I wanted to describe it with my pen: that was at the heart of what I yearned to do,” he says.

Kenneth was born into the Church of Scotland.

“In many ways it was a pretty traditional upbringing,” he says. “My parents were keen Christians and involved in running housegroups and were generally very involved in church activities.

“When I was four years old, my half-sister, Helen, went to Vietnam as a peace worker. It was during the Vietnam War, and her time there changed her forever.

“When she returned to Scotland, she was utterly committed to non-violence and the peace movement, and in time that led her to becoming Justice and Peace Worker for the Iona Community. It broadened our Christian view greatly from more narrow evangelical thinking.“

It also meant that Iona, which he describes as his ‘spiritual home’ began to play more of a role. “I don’t want to over-emphasise my involvement with the Iona Community, but during the years that Helen worked for the Community I would visit the island from time to time.


“From earliest childhood days I had a sense of the island’s significance. In adulthood it has become the place where I leave the baggage behind: I return to the deepest sense of myself. It’s the place where I find God most and always have done. Again and again when I return I find that poems happen, are born.”

Kenneth’s love of writing has its roots in his childhood.

“I was scribbling from the age of 12: it was mainly stories, certainly all from the imagination. I thought myself terribly superior: they were dealing with dry facts and history! I learned a little humility later. I think the world I found as a writer was a hiding place from school: I was very badly bullied and often unhappy.

“I suspect that’s why writing became important early on. It was nothing less than my world; somewhere the bullies couldn’t take from me – a hiding place. And I knew I could express myself: I knew I could write (though it was just practice writing for years). Once I finished university and went for a second year to Norway I was writing seriously: mainly still stories (and a first proper novel), as well as many poems. Through university days in Glasgow it had been all poems. And when I came back from Norway things started to be published in magazines: it was one step forward and often two back, but it was a beginning.

“In time I wrote other things: short stories, children’s books, articles. Since I’d lived in Norway for two years and learned the language fluently it was obvious that translating was also a wise path for someone desperately trying to survive from a literary income. But poetry was first and always at the heart of everything I wrote.”

One of his books, ‘Letting In The Light’ deals with his very personal reflections on bereavement, the breakdown of his marriage, and the estrangement from his daughter, Willow (pictured with Kenneth, right).

“I had grown up in a home where I knew marriage was for life. I felt an incredible sense of failure when I knew my own marriage had failed.

“During the year following the separation I lived in temporary accommodation: I literally lived out of bags and boxes. But the hardest thing of all was that I only saw Willow once a week.

“During the course of that year I almost feel I forgot I was a writer: it didn’t seem to matter anymore. But I must have scribbled things on the backs of old pieces of paper, and I didn’t throw those words away.

“A long time later I pieced all those fragments together, partly because I wanted to write something for Willow, something that would always be hers. I wanted her to know in time to come that I had not forgotten her, that I had never abandoned her, that I had always loved her. And I wanted to give that message to others, to other parents who had faced such loss. “

Inspiration comes to Kenneth from a multitude of places.


“There are rather too many places to mention!” he laughs. “There are the moments from nature: of the geese returning in autumn, of the first snow falling, of going to gather chestnuts. Often these moments, especially those remembered from childhood, have a deep spiritual resonance.

“I’m often asked how my faith influences my work and to be honest, I find this a very difficult question to answer. Sometimes more evangelical Christians will say: ‘It’s a shame you don’t write more about your faith!’

“At that point I could weep: I feel that my faith permeates everything I write.

“I can’t truly express what I mean by that; I can only believe it.“


Christening

We drove through grey silence;
The skies drifting with snow
In a winter that would not end.
At the church I made promises
In a language I did not know –
And a German bell rang out,
Strange in the muffled day.
And then you ran to me, Willow,
And you carried the sun in your running;
You poured into laughter and ran
As though all the war was over.
And inside a shell broke
That Easter Sunday morning;
A shell like a bird’s egg
Flooded over with warm light.
The long folly of words,
The gunneries of rage,
The anger of small conflicts –
Useless, forgotten, gone.
The land left open
For the love of sunlight –
The beginning of another spring.

https://kennethsteven.co.uk