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.


60 years in 60 poems

I’m a little behind the times on this, but it’s worth a mention anyway.

In a project commissioned by Faber & Faber, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy compiled a collection of poems for the Queen’s jubilee; sixty poets were each assigned a different year of the Queen’s reign to write about.  You can buy the book – Jubilee Lines – or you can read them here.

Or you can have them read to you here – a neat little page from The Space, a partnership between Arts Council England and techies at BBC.

I love hearing poetry read aloud, especially by the poet, which often brings nuances not apparent on the page.  Dylan Thomas springs to mind.  Almost always a poem is enriched by the voice of its creator.  Second best is often reading it yourself.  Listening to an actor read poetry is a little like having it translated – they should be chosen carefully to ensure that they enhance and enrich the voice of the poet.

The readers here are Samantha Bond and Dan Stevens, who have clear, pleasant voices more suited to classics rather than contemporary poetry; Lindsey Marshal reminded me of a primary teacher at story time, although this worked with some poems, particularly Gillian Clarke’s Running Away to the Sea (1955); but Alex Lanipekun has a voice that is deep and rich and brings the poetry to life.  Scroll down to 1962 and listen to him read Sixteen (1962) by Brian Patten.

I would have loved to hear Alex read Don Paterson’s awesome sonnet The Big Listener (1997), but as he didn’t I’m happy just to read it myself.  Here, you try it –

The Big Listener by Don Paterson

Midnight. Connaught Square. A headlight beam
finds Cherie just back from her speaking date.
She looks at you. Less animal of late.
You lose no sleep but wake within a dream.
Your favourite: that old divided dark;
the white square at your neck; your good ear bent
towards the long sighs of your penitent.
You rinse a thousand souls before the lark
and wake refreshed, if somewhat at a loss
as to why they seem so lost for words.
They are your dead, who still rose to the birds
the day we filled the booths and made the cross,
before you’d forced them howling to their knees
to suffer your attentions. Spare us. Please.