Don Paterson – Edinburgh International Book Festival 2012

This will be a short recap, because I feel that my words will paint a poor picture of the magnificence of hearing Don Paterson read some of this poetry. Don Paterson has long been a familiar name to me, because he was (and is) a tutor and lecturer in the English department of the University of St Andrews; but it was when I picked up a copy of the Forward Book of Poetry 2009 that I really fell in love with Paterson’s poetry.

Paterson’s last collection of poetry was entitled Rain, and it actually won the Foward Poetry Prize for Best Collection 2009. During this Edinburgh Book Festival reading, Paterson was wonderfully warm and honest; able to laugh at both himself and his critics. This was never more obvious than when he read a new poem (sonnet) in which each line started with ‘What Paterson fails to realise, is’ and then span criticisms of his work he had found on the internet into a witty war of words.

I found that Paterson’s off the cuff comments before and after his poems were wonderfully telling, and encapsulated exactly why I love to hear poets read their own work – hearing the wordsmith read their own work means you begin to hear them as they’re supposed to be heard. It made me understand some of his work better than before.

The two poems which resonated most with me were the two poems which Paterson read from Rain. I found myself holding my breath throughout them, beautifully measured and complete, often surrounded with an aura of sadness. I would hugely recommend Rain as a collection for anyone who likes poetry, and Don Paterson’s Selected Poems for anyone who wants an introduction to his poetry.

The title poem from Rain is below:

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

one long thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame

to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,

so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play,

I think to when we opened cold
on a rain-dark gutter, running gold
with the neon of a drugstore sign,
and I’d read into its blazing line:

forget the ink, the milk, the blood—
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters

and none of this, none of this matters.

You can buy Don Paterson’s Rain and Selected Poems both online and at the Edinburgh International Book Festival bookshop, as well as online. I wholly recommend both.

I received tickets (and an accredited press pass) for the Edinburgh International Book Festival from Clicket, who run a wonderful service listing all the events going on in Edinburgh – take a look at the Clicket website for more information.


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