Paterson attracts full house with poems from humorous to mournful

Scottish poet Don Paterson gave a public reading at the Robert W. Woodruff Library on April 11, closing out the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library Reading Series 2011-2012 season on a high note.

Paterson's reading was candid, ranging from humorous to mournful, and offered a glimpse into his personal life. The poem “House” is a reaction to his own mild obsession (“I watch too much TV”) with the TV drama of the same name, noting that viewing British actor Hugh Laurie as “any kind of sex god” is strange. In the poem “Mercies,” Paterson imagined his dog's unconditional love as radio transmissions, invisible yet palpable, slowly fading away with the dog's death. Paterson shared that his children's questions often act as inspiration. “Why Do You Stay Up So Late?” is an attempt to explain to his son his process of writing poetry late into the night, wherein he collects “the dull things of the day in which I see possibility.”

It was clear the audience of about 90 people was fully engaged with Paterson, as the range of emotions reflected in his poetry was mirrored in the crowd’s responses. His comments were often self-effacing, but the result was an ability to disarm audience expectations and elicit genuine reactions to his poetry.

Fiona, an exchange student from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where Paterson is a professor of poetry, came to the event to hear her fellow Scot's work. She remembered Paterson making a few jabs about boring poetry readings – that when the poetry is bad, Paterson hoped the poet's introductions “would never end.” She noticed Paterson's comments between poems were fully the opposite; that while his comments were meant to entertain, they only made her more eager to hear the poem itself.

Ralph, a community member, didn't know of Paterson prior to the reading, but was pleased he came. “I came tonight because I've read other works by T.S. Eliot prize winners, so I knew it was going to be good.”

Paterson has received the Whitbread Poetry Prize, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award, and the T.S. Eliot Prize. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and received the Order of the British Empire in 2008, as well as the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2010.

Submitted by John Bence, research library fellow, john [dot] bence [at] emory [dot] edu