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This review is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.

BROADCAST IT DON PATERSON, Rain (Faber and Faber) £12.99

Paterson’s poetry has often drawn attention to the carefully crafted processes of writing and hearing. His early volume Nil Nil (1993) had the lyric ‘stylus balanced / somewhere between ellipsis and precision, / as I gently lower the sharp nib to the line’. Paterson’s ‘balanced’ precision emphasises poetry’s musical density, and also points out lyricism’s ‘sharp’ work. Contemporary ‘precision’ reminds us of the artwork’s painstaking etymological re-inscription of literary heritage.

Rain presents fresh images of poetic dexterity: ‘two fingertips laid feather-light / to still his pen’. This lightness of touch recognises that lyric agility is neither transcendent nor privileged activity. The poems ally themselves with corporeal work: ‘what kind of twisted ape ends up believing / the rushlight of his little human art / truer than the great sun on his back?’. The poet must ‘know his station’. This is a speaker likely to have his shirt off – or overalls on – as he delves into literary history.

Paterson’s acts of inscription are keenly ambitious, aiming to produce poetry that will be judged alongside canonical voices. They are also ready to expose the poet-figure’s thwarted attempts to take command of literary production and reception. In his earlier sequence ‘The Alexandrian Library’, the poet- figure was overcome by his attempts to master knowledge, in libraries and in writing poetry. Rain, too, depicts poet-figures labouring to join the literary community (‘how can I pay tribute …?’), and to secure an audience:

So even ...


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