On Tuesday, March 27, we hosted a reading and conversation with two of our favorite poets: Don Paterson and Dan Chiasson. Paterson was born in Dundee, Scotland in 1963. He moved to London in 1984 to work as a jazz musician and has been writing poetry ever since. His first collection, Nil Nil (1993) won the Forward Prize for best first collection. God’s Gift to Women (1997) won both the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and Landing Light (2003) won the Whitbread Poetry Prize and an unprecedented second T.S. Eliot Prize. His most recent collection, Rain (2009), won the Forward Prize and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He teaches poetry at the University of St. Andrews. Chiasson, who’s spending the year as a visiting professor in our creative writing department, is poetry critic at The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of three books of poems, including Natural History (Knopf, 2005) and Where’s the Moon, There’s the Moon (Knopf, 2010).
Joe Rezek, Assistant Professor of English and a member of our executive board, introduced the event, which reprises a series of conversations with artists and writers formerly organized by the Institute for Human Sciences here at BU, exploring questions of language, culture, nation, history, and the role of the poet in society.
Don read a selection of published and unpublished poems, including one he’d written at the airport the day before, titled, tentatively, “My Incomprehension.” The reading was peppered with commentary on matters ranging from poetry readings – not always a great night out – to the secular gods of American television to his fascination, of late, with the sonnet form. After the reading, which included such gems as “Burial” and “Two Trees” and a personal favorite, “The Correctives”:
The shudder in my son’s left hand
he cures with one touch from his right,
two fingertips laid feather-light
to still his pen. He understands
the whole man must be his own brother
for no man is himself alone;
though some of us have never known
the one hand’s kindness to the other.
After the reading, a lively conversation ensued between the two poets, again touching on a variety of subjects, from Don’s disdain for Tony Blair (as evidenced in his poem, “The Big Listener”) to the formal aspects of his work, his writing process, and finally, to what, if any responsibility he feels to politics while writing poetry. Don spoke of the dangers of so-called “political poetry” – there’s no point in trying to provoke feelings of which people are already in high possession from the mere encounter with the documentary facts – after which the conversation shifted to “favorite poets.”
This event, which can be viewed online at BUniverse, was co-sponsored by the Center for the Humanities at Boston University, the Department of English, and the literary journal AGNI. An edited version of the conversation aired on WBUR’s World of Ideas on April 1, 2012.