© Image by Caroline Forbes

Don Paterson

(b. 1963)

"I would say that the poem exists in a space somewhere between the reader and the author, and in a sense belongs to neither, and both." - Don Paterson

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Nil Nil, Faber and Faber, 1993
  • God's Gift to Women, Faber and Faber, 1997
  • 101 Sonnets: From Shakespeare to Heaney (editor), Faber and Faber, 1999
  • Last Words: New Poetry for the New Century (editor with Jo Shapcott), Picador, 1999 - out of print
  • The Eyes - a version of Antonio Machado, Faber and Faber, 1999
  • Poetry Quartets 7, Audio Cassette, The British Council/Bloodaxe, 2000
  • Robert Burns: Poems Selected by Don Paterson, Faber and Faber, 2001
  • The White Lie: New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press, USA, 2001
  • Don't Ask Me What I Mean: Poets in their Own Words (editor with Clare Brown), Picador, 2003
  • Landing Light, Faber and Faber, 2003
  • New British Poetry (editor with Charles Simic), Graywolf Press, USA, 2004
  • The Book of Shadows (aphorism), Picador, 2004
  • All the Poems You Need to Say Goodbye (editor), Picador, 2004
  • Orpheus - a version of Rilke's Die Sonette an Orpheus, Faber, 2006
  • Don Paterson Reading from his poems, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2006
  • The Blind Eye (aphorism), Faber, 2007
  • Rain, Faber and Faber, 2009
Don Paterson (b. 1963) is an accomplished jazz musician as well as a poet which might partially account for the complex harmonies of his work. Born in Dundee, he left school to pursue a career in music, moving to London in 1984. At about this time he also began writing poetry. Stints in Brighton and Edinburgh followed as he developed his twin pursuits, forming the jazz-folk ensemble, Lammas, in the late 80s and publishing his first collection, Nil Nil, in 1993. This won the Forward Prize for the Best First Collection and secured him a place in the Poetry Society's 'New Generation Poets' promotion. Subsequent collections include God's Gift to Women and Landing Light, both recipients of the T. S. Eliot Prize. Paterson is currently poetry editor at Picador, teaches in the School of English at St Andrews University, and lives in Kirriemuir, Angus, with his partner and family.

Opposites attract in Paterson's work, his language switching from colloquial to erudite, from playful knowingness to naked lyricism, from Scots to English. All these tensions are held in place by a breathtaking technical skill: a Paterson poem reads like a score, is undeniably, though seemingly effortlessly, composed. This generates a sense of both division and unity: on the one hand many of his poems are acutely conscious of themselves as fiction, the narrator taking us into his confidence (which may or may not be a trick): "In short, this is where you get off, reader" ('Nil, Nil'). On the other hand his frequent use of interlocking rhyme maintains an aural unity which keeps the poems whole. So in the Arvon Prize-winning 'A Private Bottling', the distance between narrator and sleeping lover is traced in the fluctuating rhymes which sometimes appear as couplets, sometimes several lines apart. By contrast the beautiful poems to his children in Landing Light celebrate the closeness of the human bond: "I kissed your mouth and pledged myself forever" ('Waking with Russell').

Paterson has spoken of his suspicion of poetry in performance, preferring to see the completed poem as autonomous. Certainly his use of alternative personas refuses any claim to an individual 'personality', however his sharp delivery adds a distinctive tang to the work, whoever's doing the talking.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 24 August 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.


1990, Eric Gregory Award

1993 Arvon Foundation International Poetry Competition (1st Prize), 'A Private Bottling'

1993 Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection - winner), Nil Nil

1993 Poetry Book Society Choice, Nil Nil

1993 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, Nil Nil

1997 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, God's Gift to Women

1997 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, God's Gift to Women

1997 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, God's Gift to Women

1997 T. S. Eliot Prize (winner), God's Gift to Women

1999 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, The Eyes

1999 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, The Eyes

2002 Scottish Arts Council Creative Scotland Award

2003 T. S. Eliot Prize (winner), Landing Light

2003 Whitbread Poetry Award, Landing Light

2003 Poetry Book Society Choice, Landing Light

2008 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem - winner), 'Love Poem for Natalie 'Tusja' Beridze'

2009 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection - winner), Rain

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