In the title (and final) poem in Don Paterson’s Rain, we find a clue to understanding all of the previous poems:
I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face…
The clue is the world “films,” for that is the lens for viewing so many of poems assembled here, cinematic summaries of scenes and stories. The reader “watches” these films unfold imprecise, spare words, almost reading a kind of minimalist movie script.
And the stories Paterson tells, the scene he depicts, are at once familiar and captivating.
A man attempts to graft an orange tree to a lemon tree.
A swing set is erected for children.
A man stays up too late.
A boy paints a picture of outer space.
The wind pulls up and speaks.
The poems are intensely visual but go well beyond simple scenes projected on a screen. In “The Bathysphere,” for example, a man buys one at an auction, and then imagines his descent into the ocean and eventual return. The poem becomes a birth, or perhaps rebirth, from the primordial sea that raises as many questions as it answers.
When they ask me what I saw, they all expect
some blessed-out excuse for my not saying,
but I know what I saw: I saw everything
the germ and genius of its own ascent,
the fire of its increase; I saw the earth
put forth the trees, like a woman her dark hair;
I saw the sun’s stars and the river’s river,
I saw the whole abundant overflow…
It is a wonderful poem, full of story and images and beginnings, along with a subtle and mysterious understanding of life, and a life.
Paterson, a musician, editor, and poet, teaches at the University of St. Andrews. He’s won both the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Prize for Poetry.
First published in 2009, Rain is an original, a collection of poems that depict stories in the movie theaters of our minds.
Photograph by Ronald Carlson via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.