LitFest Review: Don Paterson and Christopher Reid

A Sunday afternoon spent with poetry is a fine thing, especially in the presence of two of Britain’s foremost contemporary poets. This was the case on October 18th, as Don Paterson and Christopher Reid took to the stage as part of the Chester Literature Festival.

Christopher Reid was the first to deliver a thirty minute set of his most recent works, which came from two separate collections. The first readings were from a short collection entitled “Anniversary”, which Reid released just over a week ago to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the loss of his first wife, Lucinda. These poems express ten moments, or memories, of Lucinda and the couple’s life together. My particular favourite was “Amazonia”, a direct address to Lucinda which discusses the play she began, but never finished writing.

Next were several selections from “The Curiosities”, an expansive work in which Reid presents poems that all have titles and themes centering around the letter C. The poems vary in content and style, from original compositions to re-writings of translations from poetry of the last thousand years. In “Costume” for example, Reid explores the childhood fascination of with sex, gender and sexuality from his own memories, whilst “Calabash” is a reconsideration of Adam and Eve’s creation myth. Reid read with a gentle humour and gave intriguing introductions to his works which really enhanced his emotional connections to the subject matter.

Don Paterson followed in the afternoon’s second half, changing the tone at once with his wry Scottish humour and deadpan wit. His latest collection is “40 Sonnets”, where Paterson explores the sonnet form in many experimental ways across various themes, tones and subjects. Picking and choosing from the book in a highly organic manner, Paterson began with a cheerful selection of humourous verses, including a failed commission to write in recommendation of his birth town, Dundee, which particularly stuck in my mind for the casual description of the “rape tunnel” one passes by.

Other intriguing readings included “Wave”, a powerful linguistic piece describing life from the perspective of a wave on the ocean, which moved “across the open water
like a wheel under its skin”. My personal favourite was “House”, actually written in tribute to the Hugh Laurie television series that ended recently, where Paterson explores the void of religiously watching the show for eight years, only to have it suddenly taken away. Paterson earned plenty of laughs from the rapt audience, yet there were noticeably tense moments in the darker side of his poems where we sat and pondered deeper themes.

Both poets stopped to answer questions for a short time at the end of the reading, which they did generously and with astute and insightful replies. It was an afternoon well spent in the presence of two extremely talented wordsmiths.

Find out more about the Chester Literature Festival at: http://www.chesterperforms.com/literature/events/

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