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Rain - by Don Paterson

Colm Toibin says that Don Paterson is 'one of the greatest poets now writing anywhere'. I am a long way from having read all poets 'now writing anywhere', but I really hope Toibin isn't right on this one. It may seem an obnoxious remark for a reviewer such as myself to make. I must also admit to not having read any of Paterson's previous work - just Rain, which I had heard so much about (not in general, you understand, but read in various literary pages). Mind you, that should mean little, after all, his previous work may be brilliant - and I'm sure it is - but I can only go on this collection and, whilst there are a couple of gems, some pockets of poignancy, most of it falls a bit flat on my internal piano of feelings.

Firstly, the poem that takes the title of the collection, Rain, also happens to be the last poem. The organisation of the collection seems to have imitated that of a chat show, with the best being left to last so that the watcher keeps viewing. Rain is beautiful, conjuring up images of black and white movies on lonely Sunday afternoons:

I love all films that start with rain:
rain braiding a windowpane

The next stanza delivers the perfect concision, alliteration and metre:

before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame

Those poems which are about his sons, such as The Circle, depicting his son drawing a circle with an unsteady hand:

My boy is painting outer space
and steadies his brush tip to trace

I found the poem that carried the most poignancy, on the same topic, was Correctives:

The shudder in my son's left hand
he cures with one touch from his right,
two fingertips laid feather-light
to still his pen. He understands

the whole man must be his own brother
for no man is himself alone;
though some of us have never known
the one hand's kindness to the other.

Yet there are those, like the first poem, Two Trees, that lack an emotional anchor, that do not deliver any feeing, and fall well short of Jeanette Winterson's back cover claim that it is 'Poetry for the gut and the mind by way of the heart'. Although I, as the reader may be lacking in this regard, but it is hard when the obvious rhyming felt like such an obstruction:

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

When I finished I felt less short-changed than cheated:

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.

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