Monday, 27 December 2010

Don Paterson - 'An Elliptical Stylus'

I just read this fucking amazing poem which I felt the need to share with you all. Don Paterson is a modern Scottish poet who has won both the Whitbread Prize for Poetry, for his 2003 collection Landing Light, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, for his 1993 collection Nil Nil, the collection that this poem is taken from.
Here it is. I really hope you enjoy it.

Don Paterson, An Elliptical Stylus

My uncle was beaming: ‘Aye, yer elliptical stylus -
fairly brings out a’ the wee details.’
Balanced at a fraction of an ounce
the fat cartridge sank down like a feather;
music billowed out into three dimensions
as if we could have walked between the players.

My Dad, who could appreciate the difference,
went to Largs to buy an elliptical stylus
for our ancient, beat-up Phillips turntable.
We had the guy in stitches: ‘You can’t…
er… you’ll have to upgrade you equipment.’
Still smirking, he sent us from the shop
with a box of needles, thick as carpet tacks,
the only sort made to fit our model.

(Supposing I’d been his son: lets eavesdrop
on ‘Fidelities’, the poem I’m writing now:
The day my father died, he showed me how
he’d prime the deck for optimum performance:
it’s a lesson that I recall – how he’d refine
the arm’s weight, to leave the stylus balanced
somewhere between ellipsis and precision,
as I gently lower the sharp nib to the line
and wait for it to pick up the vibration
till it moves across the page, like a cardiograph…)

We drove back slowly, as if we had a puncture;
My Dad trying not to blink, and the man’s laugh
stuck in my head, which is where the story sticks,
and any attempt to cauterize this fable
with something axiomatic on the nature
of articulacy and inheritance
since he can well afford to make his own
excuses, you, your own interpretation.
But if you still insist on resonance –
I’d swing for him, and every other cunt
happy to let my father know his station,
which probably includes yourself. To be blunt.

What I love about this poem is its last stanza in particular, which breaks not just the conventions of the 'fourth wall' but the conventions of poetry in general. This is something that is particularly difficult to do nowadays as we live in an age where pretty much anything goes in poetry. The fact that there is still something that defies expectations as much as the final stanza of this poem does is something I find astonishing. This aside, it is also a deceptively emotional poem, something that is also revealed in that final stanza. When the emotion comes, it comes as a shock. You aren't prepared for it and as a result it gives a reaction of shock, as well as the emotion you would have got from it anyway, which adds weight to the emotions themselves. It's extremely cleverly done.
Damn, I hope I can write something this strong and this affecting one day.

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