The Scottish jazz guitarist Don Paterson (Dundee, 1963) ‘got poetry’ watching television one night when poet Tony Harrison appeared on the screen and began reading from his work. ‘I thought I’m having some of this,’ recalls Paterson. He spent the next year reading poetry and then started writing himself. It was a late calling, in a way, even though he was still young at the time, and this may in part explain his eagerness in tackling every poetic genre and form. As for his choice of subjects he has been described as a cross between the 19th century Scottish balladist Robert Burns and the Chinese poet Po Chu-i, mentioning the latter because of a similar penchant for religious mysticism in Paterson’s work.
His first collection, Nil Nil, appeared in 1993 and straight-away won him a prize for best poetry début. In 2003 he received the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award for his latest collection, Landing Light. Paterson, a school dropout (at sixteen) with a working class background, took poetry as seriously as he had done music before. He even read the dictionary from A all the way through to Z. ‘I did not want to repeat the mistakes I made as a musician by doing without a formal training.’
In The Eyes he published his adaptations of the work of Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939). He has also written plays for the stage and radio. As a jazz guitarist Don Paterson performs solo and with the jazz-folk ensemble Lammas. He teaches creative writing at St. Andrews University. He lives in Kerriemuir, Scotland with his wife, two sons and three stepchildren.
[Don Paterson took part in the Poetry International Festival Rotterdam 2004. This text was written on that occasion.]