Don Paterson

Don Paterson lives in Edinburgh. His next collection of poetry, 40 Sonnets, will be published later this year.

Poem: ‘Four Poems’

Don Paterson, 30 July 2015

A Powercut

This is what we’ve come to, this damn lift, this blackout, this airlock, this voiceless stop, this empty set, this storm cave, this dead drop, this deaf nut, this dumb waiter, this blind drift, this Necker cube, this coalshed, this Swiss bank, this iron lung, this hide, this diving bell, this pseudocoma, priesthole, holding cell, this meatlocker, this isolation tank, this,...

Poem: ‘The Bathysphere’

Don Paterson, 28 May 2009

What would you want with that? They said, and fairly, when the auctioneer’s van dumped it in the drive. It was far worse than they knew. One absent bidder had ruined me for the thing, the quartz was cracked

and I’d lied about it being a prototype; none survived, thanks to the famous flaw that left them on the seabed with their pilots smeared all over their one wall. No matter.


The Kill

Far-conquering man . . . You’ve written, since you first turned hunter, many a level new death-rule of trap or net. Though I know the strip of sail they hung into the caverns of the Karst,

so softly, like the flag of peace, or ceasefire . . . Then, from the cave-mouth, a boy gave it a jerk and tumbling dayward out of the cave-dark came a handful of pale...

Poem: ‘Aphorisms’

Don Paterson, 3 February 2005

Imagining the worst is no talisman against it.


My time here has afforded me no enlightenment; though my night-vision has improved enormously. In fact it seems to have evolved as if it were certain of its future indispensability.


Ego-surfing again, four months since I last dared: the hit-count tripled, nearly all of them namechecks by brand-new enemies, or new recruits to the army of...

Two Poems

Don Paterson, 21 August 2003

The Hunt

By the time he met his death I’d counted off twelve years and in the crossed and harrowed path could read my whole career

the nights of circling alone in corridors of earth the days like paler nights, my lodestone dying to the north

while I lived by what uncertain meat left from his repast and what rainwater and bitter light could worm in through the crust

And in that time my...

Poem: ‘Letter to the Twins’

Don Paterson, 17 April 2003

For it is said, they went to school at Gabii, and were well instructed in letters, and other accomplishments befitting their birth. And they were called Romulus and Remus (from ‘ruma’, the dug), as we had before, because they were found sucking the wolf.

Plutarch, Parallel Lives Dear sons – for I am not, as you believed, your uncle – forgive me now my dereliction. In...

Two Poems

Don Paterson, 15 November 2001

The Sea at Brighton

To move through your half-million furnished hours as that gull sails through the derelict tea rooms of the West Pier; to know its shadowed realm as a blink, a second’s darkening of the course …

The bird heads for the Palace, then skites over its blank flags, whitewashed domes and campaniles, vanishes. Below, the shies and stalls are locked, the gypsies off to...

Poem: ‘St Bride: Sea-Mail’

Don Paterson, 19 February 1998

Now they have gone we are sunk, believe me. Their scentless oil, so volatile it only took one stray breath on its skin to set it up – it was our sole export, our currency and catholicon.

There was a gland below each wing, a duct four inches or so down the throat; though it was tiresome milking them by hand given the rumour of their infinite supply, and the blunt fact of our demand.


Poem: ‘A Deletion’

Don Paterson, 8 May 1997

Ruth, I can’t believe none of them knew; on the other hand, it’d only take a few to -ectomise it from the lexicon – and what brave soul’d report that it had gone?

(Lady: ‘I was pleased to note the lack of filthy words in your most admirable work.’Dr Johnson: ‘Yes, indeed Madame; I’m pleased you took the time to hunt for them.’)


Poem: ‘God’s Gift to Women’

Don Paterson, 6 March 1997

‘The man seems to be under the impression he is God’s gift to womankind,’ said Arthur. Cradling the enormous, rancid bunch of stock he had brought her, Mary reflected that the Holy Father could no more be depended upon to make an appropriate donation than any other representative of Hit sex.

G.K. Chesterton, ‘Gabriel Gale and the Pearl Necklace’

Dundee, and...

Degree of Famousness etc: Don Paterson

Peter Howarth, 21 March 2013

A few years back, Don Paterson was warning everyone that contemporary British poetry was under threat. Not from the usual enemies, philistines in government or chain bookshops, but from two...

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So Much More Handsome: Don Paterson

Matthew Reynolds, 4 March 2004

You might expect a landing light to be bright, a herald of safe arrival, but the light Don Paterson had most in mind when naming his new collection is weaker and less sure. ‘The...

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Bard of Friendly Fire: The Radical Burns

Robert Crawford, 25 July 2002

It’s hard to call any poet a ‘bard’ now except as an ironic jab. Few poetic terms have shifted in significance so much. When, around 1500, William Dunbar called a rival Scottish...

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Translation is often thought to be impossible, an ideal, hopeless task. What we get in its name is a pale substitute, a distant echo of a lost original. ‘A poem,’ Don Paterson says in...

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Deep Down in the Trash

Robert Crawford, 21 August 1997

Younger Scottish writers seem to be preoccupied by gender. It is a theme crucial equally to Duncan McLean’s novel Bunker Man and to Kathleen Jamie’s poetry collection The Queen of...

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Ever so comfy

James Wood, 24 March 1994

Every handful of John Updike’s silver has its square coin, its bad penny, its fake. This exquisitely careful writer tends to relax into flamboyance: it is the verbal equivalent of...

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