Sunday, 18 October 2009

Don Paterson, Rain (Faber, 2009)

Don Paterson is one of the most extraordinary poets writing in the UK at the moment. What is extraordinary is that he writes extraordinary poetry. What is even more extraordinary is that he keeps doing it. Again and again. And now Rain, his first collection since the gorgeous Landing Light (2004) has been published and gone and won the Forward Prize. Not only that but last year's prize for best poem was won by one of the poems in this collection. It is all deserved, richly so.

His work is characterized by a great formality that never makes its presence over-felt in the line, coupled with a simplicity and directness of imagery that will leave you stunned in its wake. This collection is marked by an elegy for the poet Michael Donaghy. This seven-part sequence entitled 'Phantom' sits alongside the other long poem, the utterly wonderful and magical 'Song for Natalie 'Tusja' Beridze'. I've read criticism that this threatens to unbalance the collection but considering that he was closely associated with Paterson in their muscial group 'Lammas' I think that it is entirely appropriate. I read the two side by side actually, one informing the other.

The first poem in the collection is called

Two Trees

One morning, Don Miguel got out of bed
with one idea rooted in his head:
to graft his orange to his lemon tree.
It took him the whole day to work them free,
lay open their sides, and lash them tight.
For twelve months, from the shame or from the fright
they put forth nothing; but one day there appeared
two lights in the dark leaves. Over the years
the limbs would get themselves so tangled up
each bough looked like it gave a double crop,
and not one kid in the village didn't know
the magic tree in Miguel's patio.

The man who bought the house had had no dream
so who can say what dark malicious whim
led him to take his axe and split the bole
along its fused seam, then dig two holes.
And no, they did not die from solitude;
nor did their branches bear a sterile fruit;
nor did their unhealed flanks weep every spring
for those four yards that lost them everything,
as each strained on its shackled root to face
the other's empty, intricate embrace.
They were trees, and trees don't weep or ache or shout.
And trees are all this poem is about.

There's so much to say about this poem, about the work of poetry, about what poetry should do and what poetry actually does and that mysterious and vast space in between. These poems explore this space with a deftness and a great sureness.

This is a beautiful collection from a great writer.

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