The Fable of the Open Book

by Don Paterson

Once upon a time there was a book.
The book lay open to a page. The page
had a margin, and they shared a dirty look –
though the truth is they were practically engaged.
The page said roughly what it thought it should,
the margin said exactly what it wanted,
and all was grand. But one thing spoiled the mood
of the wee verge. ‘I’m so squished and tiny-fonted!
Why the hell should that guy hog the floor?
I’ll shove that silly bigmouth out the door!’
And soon the page was lying in the gutter.
Now it could weep and wail, and spit and splutter!
‘Time,’ the margin cried, ‘to make my mark!’
And suddenly it went completely dark.

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week celebration of the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist now turns to the delights of Don Paterson's 40 Sonnets. We think "The Fable of the Open Book" will thoroughly charm you. It's easy to immerse yourself in fascinating examinations of the sonnet form and all its variations, to which Paterson adds his own lively, resonant, even subversive interpretations. "The Fable of the Open Book" seemingly effortlessly assumes the 14-line format, tackles and masters the rhyme scheme, and trots steadily to its surprising ending with metrical aplomb. The poem is a structural marvel. Then again, you need not focus on the poem's technical prowess to relish it. There are tumbling plays on words: "practically engaged" is a subtly rich example, while "the page was lying in the gutter" produces outright laughter). There are sharp rhymes: "wanted / tiny-fonted", "gutter / splutter" and more beg for the poem to be read aloud. Finally, how each character in the poem is animated will have you gazing about with rueful apprehension the next time you open a book.

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