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This report is taken from PN Review 193, Volume 36 Number 5, May - June 2010.

A Reading of Don Paterson’s ‘Unfold’ Rory Waterman

Until recently, one had to write poems to win awards for writing poems. Don Paterson, now finding room in the trophy cabinet for the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and the Forward Prize for his recent collection Rain, is ushering in a new dawn in poetic composition by showing that it is possible to write poems without writing poems and simultaneously rub Her Majesty up in exactly the right way. Many of our contemporary poets should be taking note.

The notion of a poem that says nothing - not because it is abstruse or poorly crafted, but which actually says nothing - is straightforwardly paradoxical: a poem must exist to exist, and must therefore say something, even if that something is inane or nonsensical. But it is possible, naturally, to write a poem about something when there is, as the title of one of Philip Larkin’s poems has it, ‘Nothing to Be Said’. Larkin’s ‘unsaid’ subject is, not surprisingly, death:

Hours giving evidence
Or birth, advance
On death equally slowly.
And saying so to some
Means nothing; others it leaves
Nothing to be said.

‘Unfold’, from Paterson’s recent collection, embraces and toys with the idea that there is ‘Nothing to be said’ about death - though not death in general, but a specific death. Perhaps readers feel I should quote the poem here, but that would take too much space: it comprises two blank sides of ...

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