About Tom Paulin
Tom Paulin (b. 1949) is a poet, essayist, editor and lecturer, and a regular panellist on the BBC’s Newsnight Review. He won the Somerset Maugham award for his first Faber collection, A State of Justice, and was awarded a NESTA grant for an ambitious cross-generic project to present the Second World War in a manner that embraces various forms of poetry, history, drama, biography and politics. He is also probably the only poet to have an indie-rock band named after him.
Paulin’s poetry embraces a wide range of subjects, from Paul Klee sourcing canvases from crashed biplanes in ‘Klee/Clover’ to the fleshly unpleasantness of dead facts he finds ‘In the Meat Safe’, a poem he introduces by admitting to “a great fascination with bad taste”. His writing on William Hazlitt and his editorship of The Faber Book of Political Verse make it unsurprising that politics feature in his work, and the Ireland of his upbringing is unsentimentally evoked as a place where “the Word has withered to a few / Parched certainties”, admitting this is a “powerless knowledge” (‘Desertmartin’) but giving that wisdom voice all the same. The Invasion Handbook, the first volume of his NESTA project, attempts to marshal the full range of voices and influences to be found in World War II into one sequence shaped through competing voices, including those of Kurt Schwitters and Victor Klemperer, Stalin and Hitler.
His interest in voices perhaps informs what Fiona Sampson calls “Paulin’s mastery of poetry in translation”; these are free translations, appreciating the travel at the root of the word, and thus including the translator’s own sensibility, own Irish vocabulary, even his own locality in some poems. This is not disrespect to the originals, but rather shows that the ideal translation cannot exist, and when Mallarme’s “oiseaux sont ivres” becomes, in ‘Sea Wind’, “stints skittering along the tideline”, his method demonstrates its own rewards.
In ‘A Lyric Afterwards’, Paulin links “folders of sonnets / and crossword puzzles”, contrasting them to “this great kindness everywhere”; his preference is for an open poetic linked to an open mind. He embraces freedom to use uncommon, invented, or slang vocabularies, expecting us to keep up, and in this expressive reading ensures we do.
Tom's recording was made on 8 December 2004 at the Audio Workshop, London, and produced by Richard Carrington.