|A man's a man for a'that. Don Patterson, poet and wit|
Don Paterson is a well-regarded British poet (Queen’s Medal) though I was unaware of this. At Hay Festival he offered: What is a Poem? I had just endured a dull hour on education, never a good idea for someone whose education “never took”. I needed reviving.
Paterson stepped up to the lectern and peered into the dark auditorium. In a thick Scottish accent he said, “Ye might all as well be a set of Great Auks.” Astounded, I laughed out aloud. Others were more tentative. But within a few minutes laughter was our common coin and I curse myself for not taking notes.
Especially when he damned the villanelle, a tortuously complex verse form (And yes, Paterson and I know all about “Do not go gentle...”). Under guidance I wrote a VILLANELLE some years ago and determined never to write another. Patterson was my man.
As well as jokes he also uttered this: “Prose evokes: the well-chosen word describes the thing as if it were present. But poetry persists in its attempt to invoke, to call down its subject from above, as if there were no ‘as if’ at all.” And much more.
I picked up Paterson’s new 732-page book, The Poem. Lyric, Sign, Metre, handsomely priced at £25, and joined the signing queue. I mentioned to him I was done with villanelles and he had justified my decision. He wrote: “To Roderick. Glad to sanctify your purging. Don Paterson.”
Leaving I said, “And thanks for proving poets can be serious without being solemn.” He roared Scottishly and was, I think, pleased.