Rain, By Don Paterson

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The Independent Culture

A new collection of poetry by Don Paterson is cause for celebration, and I seized upon this book with a shiver of delight. I was not disappointed: Rain is one of the finest volumes to emerge in years. Paterson's language is unpretentious, yet this ostensible clarity lays bare deeper layers of illusion. His words are a provocation to the reader, an elegant challenge that speaks to the soul.

Do not seek idle recreation here – one cannot read this volume passively. Take, for instance, "The Lie". It speaks of truths that cannot be aired, of how pain untold, or from the past, can haunt a life. Yet the nature of this trauma remains arcane and the reader is left to patch in the details.

It is often what Paterson withholds that is the key to his revelations. The first poem in Rain, "Two Trees", begins with a man's fanciful notion of grafting his orange and lemon trees together: "It took him the whole day to work them free/ lay open their sides, and lash them tight/ For twelve months from the shame or from the fright/ they put forth nothing; but one day there appeared/ two lights in the dark leaves." Trees, then, that feel shame and fear, that nevertheless submit in time to the tangling of their "limbs". Through this mysterious alchemy, they bear their magical crop of fruit. Yet when an axe invades the image, splitting the trees and destroying their union, we are told that they did not suffer for all that – not as a human might. "They were trees, and trees don't weep or ache or shout/ And trees are all this poem is about."

You are toying with us, Mr Paterson. Long may it continue.