What other writers have inspired you?

Far too many, but in chronological order: Tony Harrison, Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, J.L. Borges, E.M. Cioran, Susanne K Langer, Michael Donaghy, Jack Gilbert . . . more generally Shakespeare and Eliot and Dickinson and – yep, too many.

What do you look for in a piece of writing?

I look for something that wakes me up, and makes me feel or think something I hadn’t before – or at least hadn’t in a long while. Most of the time we’re asleep or on autopilot, and we don’t notice. A poem, ideally, will create a moment of wakefulness. And I like poems that I can learn something from. I also like poems I can remember, since they seem to exploit the one thing poetry can do that no other art form can: if you can remember a novel, film, painting, symphony … The memory is always vague or partial. But if you can remember a poem, you own it.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given by another writer?

Two things to mind: both came from very fine poets. The first was ‘For us, reading is the same as writing.’ The second was ‘Often I find I’m really writing two poems, one of which is crap.’

School of English Staff Page

Research Profile on PURE

Professor Don Paterson

Don Paterson was born in Dundee in 1963. He is the author of Nil Nil (1993), winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection; God’s Gift to Women (1997), winner of both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; and Landing Light (2003), which won both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Prize for Poetry. Rain, his most recent collection, won the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2009. In 2009 he received an OBE, and in 2010 the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He has also published versions of Antonio Machado (The Eyes, 1999) and Rainer Maria Rilke (Orpheus, 2006), as well as two collections of aphorisms, and a number of anthologies and critical books including Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets (2011) He has also been Poetry Editor for Picador MacMillan since 1996, and still occasionally works as a guitarist and composer, with a strong interest in jazz, contemporary composition and electronic music. He has also worked as a video games reviewer, and may one day again.

Poetry collections

Nil Nil (Faber & Faber, 1993), winner of the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection
God’s Gift to Women (Faber & Faber, 1997)
The Eyes, after Machado (Faber & Faber, 1999)
White Lie (Graywolf, 2001)
Landing Light (Graywolf, 2003), winner of the Whitbread Award for Poetry
Orpheus, after Rilke (Faber & Faber, 2006)
Rain (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), winner of Forward Poetry Prize
Selected Poems (Faber & Faber, 2012)

As Editor

101 Sonnets (Faber & Faber, 1999)
Last Words, with Jo Shapcott (Picador, 1999)
Robert Burns, poems selected by Don Paterson (Faber & Faber, 2001)
New British Poetry, with Charles Simic (Graywolf, 2004)


The Land of Cakes, with Gordon McPherson (Dundee Rep, 2001)
A’body’s Aberdee (Dundee Rep, 2001)

Radio Drama

Kailyard Blues (Radio 4, 1999)
Ringing the Changes, with Jo Shapcott (Radio 4, 1999)
The Aberdee Brief (Radio Scotland, 2000)
The Latecomers (Radio Scotland, 2001)


The Book of Shadows (Picador, 2004)
The Blind Eye (Faber & Faber, 2007)
Best Thought, Worst Thought (Graywolf, 2008)


Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets: A New Commentary (Faber & Faber, 2010)
Smith: A Reader’s Guide to the Poetry of Michael Donaghy (Picador, 2014)

Recent publications