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The Poem: Lyric, Sign, Metre

Don Paterson

Illuminating and authoritative treatise on ‘how a poem works’, from the multi-award-winning poet, editor and professor of poetry – now in paperback.

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The Poem attempts to answer several questions: what is a poem? In what way is its use of language distinct? What conditions allow it to arise, and what is its cultural purpose? And how, exactly, do poems work? Part polemic, part technical treatise and part meditation, The Poem is an ambitious contemporary ars poetica. Paterson looks at the writing, transmission and reading of poetry with wit and scholarly flair, drawing together literary analysis, linguistics, metaphysics, psychology and cognitive science in a thorough exploration of how and why poems are composed.

The Poem takes the form of three long essays. ‘Lyric’ attends to the music and sound patterns of poetry, and the way in which they work to deepen poetic sense; ‘Sign’ develops a new theory of metaphor, metonym and symbol, and looks at how ideas of ‘meaning’ change under poetic conditions; ‘Metre’ addresses poetry’s relationship to time and to the rhythms of speech, then builds a theory of prosody from the ground up, proposing some radical correctives to existing metrical theory along the way.

Through his various professional guises – as major prize-winning poet, as Professor of Poetry at the University of St Andrews and as Poetry Editor at Picador Macmillan – few are better placed to grant this insider’s perspective. For all those intrigued by the inner workings of the art form and its fundamental secrets, The Poem will challenge, intrigue and surprise.

Critic Reviews

'Don Paterson is one of the most talented poets working today; he is also an editor of poetry, a reader, someone intrigued by linguistics and philosophy and neurology, and is therefore the perfect polymath to write a book on how we read poetry ... ornery, profound, engaging, infuriating.'

Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman
Critic Reviews

'By the end of The Poem, I found myself reading lines of poetry over and over, exploring with a new intensity their sense and sound, right down to the most seemingly inconsequential grammar mark or phoneme. That is a sign of a good teacher: someone who can help others improve their own understanding of the world.'

Nick Major, The Herald
Critic Reviews

A tremendous achievement.

William Wooten, TLS
Critic Reviews

The close intimacy with the workings of poetry - as sound, as meaning, as rhythm - that Don Paterson exhibits in The Poem is without parallel in writings on this subject. Combining the insights of the poet with the critical acumen of the editor and the curiosity of the scholar, the book offers a no-holds-barred, nuts-and-bolts account of the way poems function that is at the same time a passionate defence of the art, and artfulness, of poetry.

Derek Attridge

Don Paterson was born in Dundee in 1963. His poetry has won many awards, including the Whitbread Poetry Prize, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Costa Poetry Award, all three Forward Prizes and, on two occasions, the T. S. Eliot Prize. He was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 2009. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of…

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