Lokking South by Stuart A. Paterson.

Literature Ambassador: Poetic News

I first saw Stuart A. Paterson at a Southlight  launch about 3 or 4 years ago. He had just returned to Scotland after a long stint working away in Manchester, so I didn’t know he existed until he took to the floor, and what a surprise that was. He read a number poems from a selection of his books, without trying to explain what they were about – a pet hate of mine, surely that’s the job of the poem?! –  and I instantly became, as the saying goes, ‘all ears.’ His poetry felt utterly authentic and real. A lot, though by no means all, of the poems he read were in Scots and this was the first time poetry written in Scots resonated with me – my life and experiences – rather than merely being a class of artefacts from a different culture. Artefacts I was able to appreciate only in the way I could the work of a Ming Dynasty potter: beautiful, but untouchable. Since that first encounter I’ve kept an eye on his output, bought the odd pamphlet when I could afford it, attended as many of the events he’s featured at as I could and, indeed, we have become friends. He’s since introduced me to other Scots poets whose rhythms, tones, and subjects let me in, rather than lock me out. I can dance to them, and for me that’s the poetic key. If I can’t feel a poem’s music I can’t access it, and that feeling starts with the ears. So it’s almost like he cured a hearing defect (Kentish deafness?) I didn’t even know I suffered from.

Poets Stuart A. Paterson and John Agard.
Stuart A. Paterson with legendary Guyanese poet John Agard.

Now he is about to do the same for others. In two ways. Firstly, this September (2017) he takes up the post of Poet in Residence at BBC Radio Scotland – in collaboration with the Scottish Poetry Library – from which he will be able to reach people all over the country. I’m sure many of them will reach back to him with a sense of shared music.

Secondly: his first full collection since 1997 is ready to launch and is currently available for pre-order  from his publisher. It’s full of music, and has the potential to transcend all sorts of borders. As many governments around the world seem intent on trying to wall in their citizens, this feels more important now than it has since the late 1980s when the last lot of walls were torn down. If we’re going to get through this we need to keep in mind how arbitrary is the side of a wall we find ourselves on. We’ll need to remind ourselves of the similarities between us and those from whom we’ve been divided and, call me naive, I think poetry has a big part to play here (along with all the other arts). Surely that’s why totalitarian governments imprison poets and other artists? As a taster here’s one of Stuart’s poems, I’m sure you’ll agree it is undeniably universal – regardless of the few Scots words he drops, like herbs into a cassoulet:


Tam O’Shanter Inn, Dumfries

 Chico's the size of a favela rat, sleek

as a racing snake. Don't be fooled by his

tabletop antics, his one-take poses on

tall trees of barstool, his acquired

resemblance to a pre-midnight Gremlin.

Chico has run with the old pack,

goes way back to when dogs got things done,

ran loose in ordered roles, tackled

jaguars, anacondas, had endless

loyal fettle. Even now, a part of him

sits watchfully on the bottom step

of great Quetzalcoatl's temple,

ready to repel invading hordes

of pagan neighbours, slice through

the jangling armour of Conquistadors.

He'll settle for a biscuit, tickled lugs,

the hoppy fug of long-tamed men who

feed him cheese & onion crisps in pubs.

And while we're sinking deeper in our beers

Chico sleeps & dreams of nothing less

than seeing off those spectacled fucking bears.

Also, if you’re near Wigtown on 30 September you can see him perform at the Book Festival. Which makes that three ways, I realise, for the poetry of Stuart A. Paterson to spread the dance of everything into a few silent corners.

2 thoughts on “Literature Ambassador: Poetic News

  1. You need this: https://www.coursera.org/learn/modpo/home/welcome – sorry I don’t know how to make the link live, but it’s a totally free online course in Modern and Contemporary American poetry run by the university of Pennsylvania. There are videos of discussions on individual poems from Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman (the proto-modernists), through Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, Lorine Niedecker, William Carlos Williams… to current poets, and live webcasts ditto, even one to one drop ins with the teachers, and a very lively forum where you can discuss individual poems with the 20 odd thousand people all over the world who are enrolled. I’ve just started it and its bloody great, I already know ten times more about Modern American poetry than before. It’s a ten week course but is available all year so you can do it in your own time on and off forever if you want.

    You’re probably far too busy at the moment, but you never know when you might get some free time to look in on it. The discussion videos are only about 20 minutes, and they provide links to the poems they discuss.


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