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.
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:
CHICO 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.