Oh, Donny boy

Oh, but isn’t Don Paterson just the dreamiest wee man?  Strong words softly spoken get me everytime.

I listened to an interview with him from BBC Radio 3, and he had some very interesting things to say about why he uses form in poetry –

“I can feel the pull back to cliché passed off as spontaneity very often, so  I’m trying to fight the thing that’s at the front of my mind to get to something that’s more interesting at the back of my mind, and very often with poetry I’ll use form as a way of getting to that stuff, you know, as a way of pushing through a wall.”

and about cautious use of sentimentality, including a fantastic analogy –

“It’s sentimentality.  Something that I learned, hopefully, from [Robert] Frost is the importance of going there, you know, and it depends on what you want to define as ‘risk’ in your poetry, and the risk for me is you have to risk looking like a sentimental buffoon, you have to risk looking stupid, you have to risk being understood, you know, that’s personal risks, the ones that might result in you looking ridiculous.  Because that’s where the good stuff is and I think that’s where the genuine emotion is that you can elicit from the reader is toward the zone that we might call sentimental.  It always reminds me, you know, of these guys who prepare the puffer fish, the fugu.  You got to train for ten years, in Japan, before you even get to sit the exam, and then there’s, like, 80% of them fail and the whole idea of it, of course, is that you have to cut it close to the poison sac, because if you cut it too close, you kill the diner, but if you cut it close enough, enough of the toxins seeps into the flesh of the fish to give the diner a fantastic, kind of, buzz, you know.  So that’s my relationship to the sentimental – I’m trying to cut it as close as I can without disgusting the reader.”

He really is my poetic idol.  I mean, I love Ted and Sylvia and Dylan, I do, and I am influenced by them but Don is real and now.  Just look here (and listen here):

The Lie

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

When you listen, it sounds natural, only when you read closely do you notice the form (five stanzas of aaba followed by a ba couplet).  A subtle, yet sturdy framework.

Strong words softly spoken get me everytime.


4 comments on “Oh, Donny boy

  1. Lisa says:

    I have to admit I’m not familiar with Don Paterson but now I’m going to learn more. Poetry fascinates me. I can’t write it; it takes me 90,000 words to say what a poet does in a stanza. Poetry teaches me the value of every single word and that’s a lesson I continue to struggle with. Thanks for introducing me to this poet.

  2. Glad you enjoyed him, Lisa, he is amazing. I think reading, learning about and practising poetry can definately help your prose writing and vice versa. Haiku, being short and focussed, are a good place to start if you’re not confident in writing poetry.

    • Lisa says:

      Haiku is so challenging. I was introduced to cinquains about a year ago and find them difficult, too, but at least I’m allowed a few more words than in a haiku. I love the challenge of writing something, and then going back and cutting. There’s that realization that a word I thought important, or just right, can go away with no negative impact on the whole. When I attempt poetry I walk away extremely dissatisfied because it feels corny, and far short of what I wanted to convey. And yet the process fascinates me enough that I keep trying. Are you familiar with Mary Mackey’s poetry? I’ve interviewed her a couple times and she is very gracious. I find her poems ones that I must reread many times in order to understand. And about the time I think I understand, I find yet another layer and another meaning.

  3. […] and repetition.  It sounds free and almost prose-like, but if you read it (here) you can see that, as in Don Paterson’s poetry, everything is held together by a solid frame of form.  Five stanzas of twelves lines with a […]

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