Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 25 April 2011

  • on nomenclature

    father knew his place
    it was near the north gate
    of the auxiliary winter capital
    in the quarter of the middling sort

    I climbed it for both of us
    the mountain of graduated merit
    to the thud of plummeting bodies
    I examined away my youth
    in the hall of indelible nightmares
    to the accompaniment of terminal sobbing
    then it was farewell happy father

    my first posting was an assistantship
    in the region of windswept borders
    where I gave good calligraphy
    in the third war of pointless encroachment

    later in the capital
    I enjoyed prestigious posts
    keeper of the library of unlearned lessons
    and later the first curator
    of the burnt library museum
    yes interesting times

    when I was installed on
    the committee of unthinkable thoughts
    under the prince with the bees in his bonnet
    a new title seemed to beckon me
    till all that free-form thinking
    triggered the great autumn purge
    resulting in five uncomfortable days
    in the chamber of extruded truth
    before a ceremony-free award
    of the brown fan of early retirement
    second class

    where I live now
    the locals will direct you to
    the famous mountain hut
    of the retired administrator
    but I’m always careful to point out
    it’s really just my dwelling
    that I’ve haven’t got round
    to calling anything fancy
    and my garden is not defined
    by willows or chrysanthemums
    or that big mountain it clings to

    what I’ve learned I think is
    how everything under language
    slips and slides and bites
    and how in the end
    language makes its excuses
    and leaves for the beach
    where every wave is new and gone

    and I sit late
    night rises from the valley
    and one by one the lights come on
    like memories and stay
    wavering like memories

    and later one by one go out
    like names

    by Alasdair Paterson

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    Copyright © Alasdair Paterson, 2010. 'on nomenclature' is taken from the volume On the Governing of Empires by Alasdair Paterson, published by Shearsman Books, 2010. It is reprinted here by permission of Shearsman Books.

    Notes courtesy of Shearsman Books:

    Alasdair Paterson was born in Edinburgh and now lives in Exeter. He won an Eric Gregory Award for his poetry in 1976; On the Governing of Empires is his first collection for more than 20 years. The intervening time was spent directing the work of academic libraries in Britain and Ireland, and travelling to Samarkand, Salonika, Stamboul, Siberia, Swaziland, San Francisco, Sidmouth and many other places not beginning with an S. You can read more selections from his latest volume here and here, and keep up with him via his blog, 'return of the crane', here.

    Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

    Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.