Biography of Don Paterson
Don Paterson is a Scottish poet, writer and musician.
on Paterson was born in Dundee. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 1990 and his poem A Private Bottling won the Arvon Foundation International Poetry Competition in 1993. He was included on the list of 20 poets chosen for the Poetry Society's 'New Generation Poets' promotion in 1994. In 2002 he was awarded a Scottish Arts Council Creative Scotland Award.
His first collection of poetry, Nil Nil (1993), won the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. God's Gift to Women (1997) won the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. The Eyes, adaptations of the work of Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939), was published in 1999. He is also editor of 101 Sonnets: From Shakespeare to Heaney (1999) and of Last Words: New Poetry for the New Century (1999) with Jo Shapcott. His latest collection of poems, Landing Light (2003), won both the 2003 T. S. Eliot Prize and the 2003 Whitbread Poetry Award. He has also published three collections of aphorisms, The Book of Shadows (2004), The Blind Eye (2007) and Best Thought, Worst Thought (2008).
Don Paterson teaches in the school of English at the University of St. Andrews and is poetry editor for the London publishers Picador. An accomplished jazz guitarist, he works solo and for ten years ran the jazz-folk ensemble, Lammas, with Tim Garland. He lives in St. Andrews, Scotland.
Orpheus, his version of Rilke's Die Sonette an Orpheus, was published in 2006.
He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.
Don Paterson's Works:
Nil Nil (1993) — winner of the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection
God's Gift to Women (1997)
The Eyes (1999), after Machado
White Lie (2001)
Landing Light (2003)
Orpheus (2006), after Rilke
Rain (2009) Winner of Forward Poetry Prize
101 Sonnets (1999)
Last Words (1999) with (Jo Shapcott)
Robert Burns, poems selected by Don Paterson (2001)
New British Poetry (with Charles Simic) (2004)
Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets (Faber, 2010)
The Land Of Cakes (with Gordon McPherson) (2001)
A'body's Aberdee (2001)
Kailyard Blues (1999)
Ringing the Changes (1999) with (Jo Shapcott)
The Aberdee Brief (2000)
The Latecomers (2001)
The Book of Shadows (2004)
The Blind Eye (2007)
Best Thought, Worst Thought (2008)
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Don Paterson Poems
In the same way that the mindless diamond keeps one spark of the planet's early fires trapped forever in its net of ice, it's not love's later heat that poetry holds,
It’s not the lover that we love, but love itself, love as in nothing, as in O; love is the lover’s coin, a coin of no country, hence: the ring; hence: the moon—
Why do you stay up so late? -new-
For Russ I'll tell you, if you really want to know: remember that day you lost two years ago at the rockpool where you sat and played the jeweler with all those stones you'd stolen from the shore? Most of them went dark and nothing more, but sometimes one would blink the secret color it had locked up somewhere in its stony sleep. This is how you knew the ones to keep. So I collect the dull things of the day in which I see some possibility but which are dead and which have the surprise I don't know, and I've no pool to help me tell— so I look at them and look at them until one thing makes a mirror in my eyes then I paint it with the tear to make it bright. This is why I sit up through the night.
Silent comrade of the distances, Know that space dilates with your own breath; ring out, as a bell into the Earth from the dark rafters of its own high place - then watch what feeds on you grow strong again. Learn the transformations through and through: what in your life has most tormented you? If the water's sour, turn it into wine. Our senses cannot fathom this night, so be the meaning of their strange encounter; at their crossing, be the radiant centre. And should the world itself forget your name say this to the still earth: I flow. Say this to the quick stream: I am.
The Thread -new-
Jamie made his landing in the world so hard he ploughed straight back into the earth. They caught him by the thread of his one breath and pulled him up. They don't know how it held. And so today I thank what higher will brought us to here, to you and me and Russ, the great twin-engined swaying wingspan of us roaring down the back of Kirrie Hill and your two-year-old lungs somehow out-revving every engine in the universe. All that trouble just to turn up dead was all I thought that long week. Now the thread is holding all of us: look at our tiny house, son, the white dot of your mother waving.
The Dead -new-
Our business is with fruit and leaf and bloom; though they speak with more than just the season's tongue— the colours that they blaze from the dark loam all have something of the jealous tang of the dead about them. What do we know of their part in this, those secret brothers of the harrow, invigorators of the soil—oiling the dirt so liberally with their essence, their black marrow? But here's the question. Are the flower and fruit held out to us in love, or merely thrust up at us, their masters, like a fist? Or are they the lords, asleep amongst the roots, granting to us in their great largesse this hybrid thing—part brute force, part mute kiss?
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 big 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 starlit gutter, running gold with the neon 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.
The Rat -new-
A young man wrote a poem about a rat. It was the best poem ever written about a rat. To read it was to ask the rat to perch on the arm of your chair until you turned the page. So we wrote to him, but heard nothing; we called, and called again; then finally we sailed to the island where he kept the only shop and rapped his door until he opened up. We took away his poems. Our hands shook with excitement. We read them on lightboxes, under great lamps. They were not much good. So then we offered what advice we could on his tropes and turns, his metrical comportment, on the wedding of the word to the event, and suggested that he might read this or that. We said Now: write us more poems like The Rat. All we got was cheek from him. Then silence. We gave up on him. Him with his green arrogance and ingratitude and his one lucky strike. But today I read The Rat again. Its reek announced it; then I saw its pisshole stare; line by line it strained into the air. Then it hissed. For all the craft and clever-clever you did not write me, fool. Nor will you ever.
The Wreck -new-
But what lovers we were, what lovers, even when it was all over— the bull-black, deadweight wines that we swung towards each other rang and rang like bells of blood, our own great hearts. We slung the drunk boat out of port and watched our sober unreal life unmoor, a continent of grief; the candlelight strange on our faces like the tiny silent blazes and coruscations of its wars. We blew them out and took the stairs into the night for the night's work, stripped off in the timbered dark, gently hooked each other on like aqualungs, and thundered down to mine our lovely secret wreck. We surfaced later, breathless, back to back, and made our way alone up the mined beach of the dawn.
The Lie -new-
As was my custom, I'd risen a full hour before the house had woken to make sure that everything was in order with The Lie, his drip changed and his shackles all secure. I was by then so practiced in this chore I'd counted maybe thirteen years or more since last I'd felt the urge to meet his eye. Such, I liked to think, was our rapport. I was at full stretch to test some ligature when I must have caught a ragged thread, and tore his gag away; though as he made no cry, I kept on with my checking as before. Why do you call me The Lie? he said. I swore: it was a child's voice. I looked up from the floor. The dark had turned his eyes to milk and sky and his arms and legs were all one scarlet sore. He was a boy of maybe three or four. His straps and chains were all the things he wore. Knowing I could make him no reply I took the gag before he could say more and put it back as tight as it would tie and locked the door and locked the door and locked the door
Our business is with fruit and leaf and bloom;
though they speak with more than just the season's tongue—
the colours that they blaze from the dark loam
all have something of the jealous tang
of the dead about them. What do we know of their part
in this, those secret brothers of the harrow,
invigorators of the soil—oiling the dirt
so liberally with their essence, their black marrow?