Don Paterson’s latest work, Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, is a mammoth collection and tonight he read several, not in any organised pattern or flow (it seemed), but which I thought lended the evening to a more informal guide through Shakespeare’s work. It was rather like an audience with The Don as he talked about the poems he fancied reading to us at the time.
Paterson began by explaining what he thought a sonnet could be described as: “Sonnets are like Spock playing 3D chess with himself while on-board the Starship Enterprise.” No, that didn’t make it any clearer for me either.
His view of what literary criticism is though, was much more palatable: “Literary criticism is not like doing algebra; it should be fun.” And commenting on the scathing review he recently received, his only remark that hadn’t already been said in the strong letter of response he wrote, was that “the biggest surprise about ‘that’ review was when I found out the poor chap was still alive.”
“Poems are not perfect,” explained Paterson, “and it’s up often to the Gods. Take Shakespeare—the reason we’re all here—even his stinkers are still better stinkers than everyone elses.”
Rather bizarrely, Shakespeare sexuality also came into the discussion, with Paterson’s assertion that although it was widely thought he was bisexual, “personally I think he was predominantly homosexual,” which he then proceeded to prove through the reading of several male-oriented poems.
Wrapping up, Shakespeare’s misogynistic tendencies came under the spotlight, which also provided me with a fascinating titbit of information, when Paterson, on dissecting one particularly misogynistic verse, explained that the use of the word “hell” is actually Elizabethan slang for “vagina”.