Don Paterson, the Dundonian poet, musician and lecturer in creative writing at the University of St Andrews, has won the 2003 Whitbread Prize for Poetry with his fourth collection, Landing Light.
Judges praised Paterson’s ‘dazzling authority’, confirming his status as ‘one of the best poets writing today’.
Paterson, who left school at sixteen to become a musician and did not begin training himself in the craft of poetry until his 20s, has won golden opinions of all kinds of critics since his first volume, Nil Nil, burst upon the literary scene in 1993. That book won the Forward Prize for best first collection and an SAC book award, and its successor scooped the T S Eliot Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award.
As well as teaching on the University’s highly successful M Litt in Creative Writing, Paterson edits poetry for Picador and continues to play guitar with his successful band, Lammas. He has also written plays for stage and radio.
Landing Light is a rich and varied collection of poems, ranging from the lyrical ‘Waking with Russell’, which movingly evokes the smile of his four-day-old son to ‘The Forest of Suicides’, a visceral rendering of the thirteenth canto of Dante’s Inferno. One poem, ‘The Box’, is a homage to Paterson’s guitar, whose lines on the page themselves form the shape of a guitar. Others explore the Scottish landscape and the Scots tongue. But the collection consistently looks outward – in conversation with the work of Rilke, Cavafy, and even Plutarch – as well as inward to the most intimate experiences of love, family, and memory.
‘Sliding on Loch Ogil’, one of the shortest poems in the winning collection, encapsulates many of its strengths. ‘Remember, brother soul, that day spent cleaving / nothing from nothing, like a thrown knife? / Then there was no arriving and no leaving,/ just a dream of the disintricated life…’.
Winners in all five Whitbread winning categories – novel, first novel, biography, poetry, and children’s book – go on to be considered for the title ‘Whitbread Book of the Year’, to be announced later this month. Should Don Paterson collect that trophy, he would follow in the footsteps of Douglas Dunn, also a lecturer at St Andrews, whose Elegies won the Whitbread Poetry Prize and went on to be named Whitbread Book of the Year in 1985.
Professor Robert Crawford, Head of the School of English said, ‘We’re all absolutely delighted that Don has received this well-deserved accolade. Landing Light is eminently well qualified to become a Book of the Year – but , more importantly, it contains poetry that will endure and give pleasure and pause for many years to come’.
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