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Ian Patterson

Ian Patterson is a life fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge.

Two Poems

Ian Patterson, 19 March 2020

Marsh Air I

Its very silhouette was an echo of fancy paintapproached on time, I thought, to drive hands downthe throat in a second with nothing much to tell

Off in a whistle soon she was forced to write his typeso what must scarcely exist was drawn and died freeof air and local looks back into the time of this.

Better ventures rock in flat belief and he loves thefeeling used by lines to remind...

My Books

Ian Patterson, 4 July 2019

I’ve always needed​ to have books around me, quantities of them, ever since I can remember. There may be something pathological about it. When I was a boy, the eldest child of literate but not bibliophile parents, in a big enough house in suburban Cheshire, most of my pocket money went on books – Billy Bunter, Jennings, William, War Picture Library, Biggles, Arthur Ransome, bird...

‘Machines Like Me’

Ian Patterson, 9 May 2019

There’s​ a very short story by Diane Williams which came into my mind while I was reading Machines like Me, Ian McEwan’s 15th novel. It’s called ‘Machinery’ and it’s 104 words long. It ends: ‘For some idea of the full range of tools at his disposal, one would have to know what human longings are all about, a calm voice says calmly.’ McEwan has...

Poem: ‘Saturday’

Ian Patterson, 13 September 2018

Empty air is a distraction         cut out of another void                 scissored away from cypress avenues and dusty white roads too far         below to see anything in it...

Ann Quin

Ian Patterson, 21 June 2018

There​ is something generational about the recent revival of interest in the novelist Ann Quin. After scarcely even maintaining a cult reputation among writers in the years since her death, she’s reappeared like a revenant who’d been lurking in dark corners, and now everybody’s writing about her. Since the rediscovery of B.S. Johnson (if that’s what it was) that...

Keston Sutherland

Ian Patterson, 20 September 2017

Occasionally,​ really not very often, a translation makes something like a jagged hole in the even surface of literary reception, out of which emerge half-familiar figures, dazzling in their new accessibility. Most translations fail at some point because of the twin principles of fidelity and compromise; too often, especially if they are translations of poems, they are not enough like...

Poem: ‘Plenty of Nothing’

Ian Patterson, 28 June 2017

in memoriam Jenny Diski 1947-2016

Pale duty stamps about in plenty of nothing         like the night when you knew everything to time when each step was beaten off when the rack might add         more glory and I would watch the stars not kin nor proof to rule the sphere to know...

Jilly Cooper

Ian Patterson, 17 May 2017

Jilly Cooper​’s work is not, so far as I know, much studied in universities. In the Senior Combination Room one lunchtime recently, when I mentioned that I was writing this review, a Very Senior Person slumped forward with his head in his hands, muttering: ‘Oh no, soft porn!’ Other people either laugh, or look quizzically at me and hurry away. It sometimes feels as if...

Poem: ‘Saving Time’

Ian Patterson, 19 January 2017

for John Berger

It was called a hand as proof, spotless and caught       like watching a false cuff, kind of. It is a pepper mill or a path like a vision along to the glass door. Her will       and the men, hesitating, end up like a house fire.

A tight fit bolts and lands in such a way. The shape of hers...

The Fitzwilliam Museum​ in Cambridge is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year with a series of exhibitions and activities designed to illustrate different aspects of the collection, which since its foundation in 1816 has been wonderfully various: various enough at times in the past to constitute a muddle of badly hung or oddly displayed materials. Not that this stopped people liking...

John Craske

Ian Patterson, 9 September 2015

In​ the final pages of The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald imagined ‘the depths of despair into which those can be driven who, even after the end of the working day, are engrossed in their intricate designs and who are pursued, into their dreams, by the feeling that they have got hold of the wrong thread’. Sebald was talking about weavers, but the feeling must be common to all...

From The Blog
30 October 2018

‘Private armament firms, no matter how reputable and incorrupt, depend for their prosperity on the perpetual exasperation of international fears and suspicions … they thrive upon war scares, and they must have occasional wars.’ So concluded The Secret International, an influential pamphlet published in the early 1930s by the Union of Democratic Control. The international arms trade is no less a force for 'exasperation' now than it was then, and in Britain, as in most countries with a remunerative arms sector, it has become an adjunct of government. Britain's defence industry used to put out its wares for international consumption every year, either in Portsmouth or Aldershot, as a government-to-government trade exhibition, under the auspices of the Royal Navy or the British Army. In the 1990s the arms show was outsourced: Defence and Security Equipment International is now run by Clarion Events, 'a successful, dynamic and creative business' in Surrey. And business is booming.

From The Blog
21 October 2016

Nemo’s Almanac is a long-running literary quiz, which may sound like a pointless thing to write about but it’s – almost – an important cultural phenomenon. It’s also at a critical moment in its history, representing as it does a radically different pace, mode and rationale of intellectual inquiry from the instant gratification of curiosity that the internet has made possible. It consists of 72 quotations, plus one more on the cover, arranged according to monthly themes (this year’s include Hats, Coal, Novelty, Foxgloves, Silence and Socialism). It was started by a governess called Mrs Larden (first name unknown) in 1892 as an almanac and quiz for her charges. The fourth editor, Katherine Watson, who ran a bookshop in Burford, turned it over to John Fuller in 1970. The editorship subsequently passed to Alan Hollinghurst, who in turn passed it on to the late Gerard Benson, who was followed by Nigel Forde; and now I am Nemo and the Almanac has become my responsibility.

From The Blog
15 March 2012

Last November, the higher education minister, David Willetts, came to Cambridge to deliver a talk, in a series about 'the idea of the university' organised by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. But as he came to the lectern, a number of audience members (both students and academics) stood up and read, or performed, collectively, a poem articulating opposition to the policies he was advocating. They continued to read and repeat the poem until after a few minutes Willetts was ushered away and the lecture and question and answer session cancelled. In the aftermath of this, and of the small occupation of the lecture theatre that followed it, one PhD student was singled out for reprisal by the university authorities, and made subject to the university’s disciplinary procedures.

From The Blog
9 January 2012

On Saturday, the Guardian published a short poem called ‘Stephen Lawrence’ by the poet laureate, and recent Costa Prize-winner, Carol Ann Duffy. It was embarrassingly bad, I thought. But to judge by the response on Twitter, I was in a minority. 'This is what I want of a poet laureate! Brilliant Carol Ann Duffy poem re Stephen Lawrence,' Jon Snow tweeted enthusiastically, backed up by his Channel 4 colleague, Matthew Cain, who said the poem was ‘short but so very moving...’ The poem ‘sent a shiver’ down Tom Watson’s spine; Adrian Lester said ‘Succinct. Short and effective. Please read this.’ Other tweets included ‘a darkly moving summation’, ‘a powerful new poem’, ‘Another brilliant Carol Ann Duffy poem at the end of a momentous week’ and ‘Very moving. This is precisely why we need a Poet Laureate.’

From The Blog
21 March 2011

The world’s first aerial bombing mission took place 100 years ago, over Libya. It was an attack on Turkish positions in Tripoli. On 1 November 1911, Lieutenant Cavotti of the Italian Air Fleet dropped four two-kilogramme bombs, by hand, over the side of his aeroplane. In the days that followed, several more attacks took place on nearby Arab bases. Some of them, inaugurating a pattern all too familiar in the century since then, fell on a field hospital, at Ain Zara, provoking heated argument in the international press about the ethics of dropping bombs from the air, and what is now known as 'collateral damage'. (In those days it was called 'frightfulness'.)

Versions of Proust

Michael Wood, 6 January 2005

What was it Proust said about paradise? That all paradises are lost paradises? That the only true paradise is a lost paradise? That it isn’t paradise until it’s lost? That paradise is...

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May ’88

Douglas Johnson, 21 April 1988

In April 1984 President Mitterrand gave a press conference unlike any that had previously been held under the Fifth Republic. He did not sit at a sombre bureau Louis XV decorated with red, white...

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