Reading: The Wreck by Don Paterson

Don Paterson (b. 1963) is a Scottish poet from Dundee, where he still lives and plays jazz guitar in a band. He has taught poetry and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire. His poetry unique on two T.S. Eliot Prizes and the list of awards goes on. I read a remarkable ode to a love affair that has died:

The Wreck
But what lovers we were, what lovers,
even when it was all over—
the bull-black, deadweight wines that we swung
towards each other rang and rang
like bells of blood, our own great hearts.
We slung the drunk boat out of port
and watched our sober unreal life
unmoor, a continent of grief;
the candlelight strange on our faces
like the tiny silent blazes
and coruscations of its wars.
We blew them out and took the stairs
into the night for the night’s work,
stripped off in the timbered dark,
gently hooked each other on
like aqualungs, and thundered down
to mine our lovely secret wreck.
We surfaced later, breathless, back
to back, and made our way alone
up the mined beach of the dawn.
This poem is accessible, right? I am captivated by the opening scene of the former couple toasting at their final rendezvous, during which they get drunk and reminisce about their bygone love affair. They are imagining – together – their love as a boat they see dead in the water and sinking. And it all rhymes to brilliantly, Audenesquely. Port – unmoored, swung – slung, blazes – coruscations (not: sparks because rhythm over rhyme).
After the candlelight is out they go do the night’s work in the belly of the wooden shipwreck. They strap each other on like aqualungs as they go down, and back to back they rise to the surface again, breathless. Kitsch? No, the enjambment between back / to back prevents that. The “mined beach of the dawn” is perhaps a little too round for an ending, I would have preferred something a little more tart.

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