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Paul Muldoon: Critical Essays

Volume: 41
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Paul Muldoon
    Book Description:

    The essays in this book testify to the fascination of Paul Muldoon’s poems, and also to their underlying contentiousness. The contributors see Muldoon from many different angles – biographical, formal, literary-historical, generic – but also direct attention to complex moments of creativity in which an extraordinary amount of originality is concentrated, and on the clarity of which a lot depends. In their different ways, all of the essays return to the question of what a poem can ‘tell’ us, whether about its author, about itself, or about the world in which it comes into being. The contributors, even in the degree to which they bring to light areas of disagreement about Muldoon’s strengths and weaknesses, continue a conversation about what poems (and poets) can tell us which Paul Muldoon’s work has made both compelling and fruitful.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-374-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    ‘So, what can I tell you?’¹ Paul Muldoon’s question, in ‘Getting Round’, his Bateson lecture of 1998, is open to more than one tonal interpretation. Even so, there is somewhere in the many possible tones of this one particular address a serious question – serious, whether or not Muldoon is asking it in earnest. What can a poem ‘tell’ us, and how, for that matter, can we best tell what we have been told? Is what a poem ‘tells’ us finally – and unparaphrasably – only itself? And in that case, how far can a maker of poems tell us anything new, over...

  6. ‘Thirteen or Fourteen’: Paul Muldoon’s Poetics of Adolescence
    (pp. 6-25)

    Why do Paul Muldoon’s poems regularly include phrases such as these: ‘Mercy was thirteen, maybe fourteen’ (‘Boon’); ‘Internal exiles at thirteen or fourteen’ (‘The Geography Lesson’); ‘I was thirteen or fourteen’ (‘Making the Move’); ‘she was twenty / or twenty-one’ (‘Big Foot’)?¹ The same mannerism appears in his prose: Muldoon writes that he ‘first read Donne […] at the age of fifteen or sixteen’.² The youngest age such phrases mention is ‘ten’; the oldest is ‘twenty-one’. These paired ages (I have not listed them all) are only one of the many ways in which Muldoon’s work has used his, and...

  7. Never Quite Showing his Hand: Robert Frost and Paul Muldoon
    (pp. 26-44)

    In 1985, the poet Michael Donaghy interviewed Paul Muldoon for theChicago Review. Towards the end of the interview the two consider why, in recent decades, a number of Irish poets have looked to America for inspiration. Muldoon’s explanation is that ‘in terms of writing it seems to me that a lot of exciting things have happened here’ – and he then declares that ‘One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost’. Donaghy notes that ‘You’ve mentioned Frost in other interviews, and so has Seamus Heaney. In a way it seems to suggest that you two see more going on in...

  8. For Father Read Mother: Muldoon’s Antecedents
    (pp. 45-61)

    ‘A historical dictionary should always be within a poet’s reach: preferably the bigOxford English Dictionary– the two-volume edition is insufficient’; ‘a single “trip” under psilocybin, the toxic derivation of a Mexican mushroom, can […] be most informative. It […] reveals in pictorial imagery the hidden terrors and aspirations of the […] mind’; ‘it is all done with mirrors […]. The intricate pattern [is made by] interlinked images of several round mirrors set at different angles to one another […]. This is a close enough metaphor for Poetry’; ‘True poetic practice implies a mind so miraculously attuned and illuminated that...

  9. Pax Hibernica/Pax Americana: Rhyme and Reconciliation in Muldoon
    (pp. 62-95)

    Muldoon is not talking here just about meaning, but about the whole creative process. His words register the distinction between what Kristeva calls the symbolic or thetic aspects of poetic language (‘discovering the extent of limits, the confinement, the controlling of readings’) and their semiotic source, the poet ‘opening himself, or herself to the floodgates’. The latter point, Kristeva implies, is where rhyme comes in: ‘this experience of the semiotic chora in language produces poetry. It can be considered as the source of all stylistic effort, the modifying of banal, logical order by linguistic distortions such as metaphor, metonymy, musicality’.²...

  10. Muldoon and Pragmatism
    (pp. 96-109)

    In this essay I want to look at the way Paul Muldoon, following Robert Frost, complicates the reading experience in a particular way, and I want to relate this complicating process, and the desire on behalf of both poets to activate it, to the influence of American pragmatism, particularly the influence on Frost of William James, and of Frost in turn on Muldoon. This complicating process, as I call it, settles on how both writers make it possible for the reader to read them quickly, while at the same hinting that a slower reading might be preferable, or even that...

  11. ‘All That’: Muldoon and the Vanity of Interpretation
    (pp. 110-124)

    In but one of so many Muldoonian tricks and twists, ‘A Trifle’ from the collectionQuoofputs the issue of significance, of meaning, overtly in question, from its title onwards:


    I had been meaning to work through lunch

    the day before yesterday.

    Our office block is the tallest in Belfast;

    when the Tannoy sounds

    another bomb alert

    we take four or five minutes to run down

    the thirty-odd flights of steps

    to street level.

    I had been trying to get past a

    woman who held, at arm’s length, a tray,

    and on the tray the remains of her...

  12. Paul Muldoon’s Transits: Muddling Through after Madoc
    (pp. 125-149)

    Making good use of the playful-plain style that characterizes his most everyday book – his verse journal for January 1992,The Prince of the Quotidian– Paul Muldoon grumbles:

    In the latest issue of theTLS‘the other Seamus’, Seamus Deane,

    has me ‘in exile’ in Princeton:

    this term serves mostly to belittle

    the likes of Brodsky or Padilla

    and is not appropriate of me; certainly not

    of anyone who, with ‘Louisa May’ Walcott,

    is free to buy a ticket to his emerald isle

    of choice. To Deane I say, ‘I’m not “in exile”,

    though I can’t deny

    that I’ve been twice...

  13. ‘All Art is a Collaboration’: Paul Muldoon as Librettist
    (pp. 150-169)

    ‘All art is a collaboration’, writes John Millington Synge in his preface toThe Playboy of the Western World.¹ Although a trained musician, one form of collaborative art the playwright and poet never explored was opera. His colleague in the Irish Literary Revival, the notoriously tone-deaf W.B. Yeats, was no more enthusiastic. Writing as one who ‘cannot tell one tune from another’ in his essay ‘Speaking to the Psaltery’, Yeats remembers his youthful impatience with setting poetry to music:

    when I heard anything sung I did not hear the words, or if I did their natural pronunciation was altered and...

  14. Muldoon’s Remains
    (pp. 170-188)

    In a review ofThe Annals of Chile, Neil Corcoran puts his finger on the affective quality, thequidditas, of Paul Muldoon’s elegy, ‘The Wishbone’: ‘exiguousness’.² An exiguous thing is scanty or small. The wishbone at the end of the poem bears scant relation to the substance – ‘a frozen chicken’ – of which it had formed a part. According to Tim Kendall, such exiguous objects appear throughout Muldoon’s poetry as ‘ residuary bodies’, or, as Clair Wills puts it, the ‘remains’ of larger objects.³ In those poems Muldoon published along with ‘The Wishbone’ (inThe Wishbonepamphlet, in 1984, andMeeting...

  15. Index
    (pp. 189-192)