- Alistair Braidwood
I may have said this elsewhere in these pages, but for me poetry is the art form that balances the fine line between good and bad more precariously than any other. When it’s good it’s very, very good but when it’s bad it can be awful. I suppose this is because there is so much going on that there is so much to go wrong.
I don’t know much about poetry, but I know what I like. There are only a few poets whose new work I wait for as I do with my favourite novelists, film-makers or musicians. Edwin Morgan, Tom Leonard and Don Paterson are probably the only three who make me eager with anticipation. Luckily for me, and you if you are a fan of insightful, witty and poignant poetry, Don Paterson’s latest collection came out at the end of last year. It’s called Rain and it has since won the prestigious Forward Poetry Prize for what the judges called a ‘masterful collection’. Here is the title track, so to speak:
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 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
Paterson recently received the Queens Gold Medal for poetry, following in the footsteps of fellow Scots Sorley Maclean, Norman MacCaig and the aforementioned Edwin Morgan as well as well kent names such as Auden, Betjeman, Larkin and Hughes. The poet, whose previous collections include Nil,Nil,God’s Gift to Woman, Landing Light and Orpheus, uses his everyday life as inspiration for his work and Rain deals with love, loss, hope and despair and he moves easily from the intensely personal to the universal and elemental.
Like Morgan and Leonard his work is accessible, wears its intelligence lightly, and can be amusing and deeply moving. I often feel like I don’t allow enough poetry into my life. If you have a similar inkling then try some Don Paterson, either his poetry, or his collections of aphorisms The Book of Shadows, The Blind Eye and Best Thought, Worst Thought which also come with high recommendation. Below is a clip of the man reading at Book Slam: