twenty-one: Don Paterson, Landing Light

Another very late post. I pray to the patron saints of poetry (Brigid of Ireland, Cecilia, Columba, David and of course Roger McGough) for forgiveness.

So, on to Don Paterson. Another big name in contemporary British poetry; as well as writing his own prizewinning collections, he’s the editor of Picador’s poetry list – an enviable occupation. I think I first came across him at my poetry group (which was what got me into reading contemporary poetry really, after Alice Oswald had begun the work – of which more this weekend). Certainly this was read out once, a fragment that appears on the imprint page (just below the terms of sale and above the British Library record) of Landing Light

that covers up the hill and cross,
the fallen hush, His own held breath)
but stare it down: the thawing earth
sustains a temporary gloss

– I still don’t know where the rest of the poem is. I shall have to ask Poetry Andrew.

So, he’s one of those big names you need to read, and this, his latest collection, is suitably laden with prizes. I enjoyed it. It reminded me of Ian Duhig – lyrical, tough, sometimes hard work – but I felt much more engaged with it; I found I got the humour, enjoyed the knowingness. I particularly enjoyed his use of form and rhyme; sometimes free verse gets a bit much for me.

Being a sentimental sort of idiot, I loved his poems about his children (‘Walking with Russell’) and hearbreak (‘The Wreck’, ”96′); also ‘Palm’, ‘A Fraud’ and the sexiness of ‘Letter to the Twins’. Most of all I loved ‘The Thread’ –

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.

Landing Light, Don Paterson (Faber and Faber, 2003, winner of the 2003 T.S. Eliot prize and the 2003 Whitbread Poetry Award)

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