A swirling, sparkling stew of philo­soph­i­cal musings and bons mots

THE FALL AT HOME Don Pater­son (Faber, £16.99)

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Books - ALAS­TAIR MABBOTT

Iread here that I write some­thing called ‘pas­tiche apho­risms’. In the land of the ter­mi­nally iro­nised, one can no more prove one’s sin­cer­ity than the in­mate of an asy­lum his sound­ness of mind.” Don Pater­son makes it clear that his apho­risms are not par­o­dies but the real thing: clever, con­cise state­ments in­tended to con­vey a gen­eral truth. It’s a side­line that the Dundee-born poet has kept up along­side his award-win­ning po­etry since 2005, and the one quoted above is an ex­am­ple of the hun­dreds con­tained in The Fall At Home, which gen­er­ously in­cludes his pre­vi­ous two col­lec­tions, The Book Of Shad­ows and The Blind Eye, as a bonus. Pater­son stresses that these “sud­den mo­men­tary con­vic­tions” don’t need to be state­ments of last­ing truth (maybe that’s why some have mis­taken them for pas­tiche). If they’re be­lieved for as long as it takes to write them down, that’s enough.

With­out any ap­par­ent or­der or scheme in play, there’s no telling what one will stum­ble across next. Amidst sar­donic ob­ser­va­tions and a few good jokes, we find musings of a philo­soph­i­cal or spir­i­tual na­ture, re­flec­tions on age­ing, the thoughts that pass through a writer’s mind as they’re work­ing. Some might be based on mem­o­ries of old friends or ideas that never de­vel­oped into fin­ished poems. Just as many are gnomic, contentious or just plain ir­ri­tat­ing. On the same page as a gen­uine epiphany, one can come across a flip­pant pass­ing fancy or a maxim that doesn’t stand up to a mo­ment’s scru­tiny.

Pater­son will al­ways be a poet first and fore­most, but this swirling stew of spon­ta­neous thoughts of­fers an un­guarded view of the work­ings of his brain in all its com­plex glory, lay­ing bare the flashes of in­sight, whims, here­sies and the con­flict­ing and con­tra­dic­tory sides of his na­ture that are just as authen­ti­cally him as any care­fully-honed

son­net. With no obli­ga­tion to re­flect more than the truth of a sin­gle mo­ment, he’s free to put thoughts on pa­per that, in the more sus­tained and con­cen­trated ef­fort of writ­ing a poem, might never have sur­faced.

The apho­rism in­deli­bly as­so­ci­ated with the likes of Os­car Wilde, Dorothy Parker and Ge­orge Bernard Shaw, long­gone well-heeled wits sprin­kling bons mots ef­fort­lessly, if self-con­sciously, into up­lift­ing af­ter-din­ner con­ver­sa­tion. To de­vote a book to them in this day and age might seem like the kind of folly that only the Reader’s Di­gest would con­tem­plate. And yet, putting it aside for a few min­utes to check Twit­ter, I’m con­fronted with a tweet from Limmy – “Just think, an­i­mal ac­tors don’t know they’re an­i­mal ac­tors. The dog that played Lassie, the pig that played Babe, none of them. No idea.” – which could have been slipped into Pater­son’s book with no-one be­ing any the wiser.

The apho­rism may not be a thing of the past at all, but a form that’s only now found its true medium, the soul of wit guarded by a 280-char­ac­ter limit.

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