Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Intro: Paul Muldoon

The Mixed Marriage,” in his second collection, Mules (London and Winston-Salem, NC, 1977), concerns the opposed educational and class backgrounds of his parents: his mother’s cosmopolitan literariness and his father’s rural knowledge and Republican sympathies. His poetry, which frequently returns to his parents (particularly his father), itself conducts mixed marriages of various kinds. It brings his own family and rural background into a strangely dislocating relationship with an astonishing range of sophisticated literary, historical, and cultural allusion; it crosses contemporary Irish experience with Amerindian Trickster mythology; it joins early Irish legend to the thrillers of Raymond Chandler; it performs some radical formal experiments with that most traditional of poetic means, the sonnet. Wily and mischievous, these conjunctions are energetic displays of a subtle, learned, and ironic intelligence, placing the reader in a constant state of interpretative alertness and insecurity. In his influential longer poems, such as “Immram” in Why Brownlee Left (London and Winston-Salem, NC, 1980) and “The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants” in Quoof (London and Winston-Salem, 1983), he employs oblique, intermittent narratives of conspiracy, quest, and pursuit whose slippery air of giving nothing away, at once cajoling and unaccommodating, gracefully testifies to that most bedrock marriage of all in his work: that of a Northern Irish Catholic sensibility and the English poetic tradition.

from The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English. Ed. Ian Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford UP. Copyright © Oxford UP.

From accessed 6/11/08.


Forty years in the wilderness
of Antrim and Fermanagh
where the rime would deliquesce
like tamarisk-borne manna

and the small-shot of hail
was de-somethinged. Defrosted.
This is to say nothing of the flocks of quail
now completely exhausted

from having so long entertained an
inordinately soft spot for the hard man
like Redmond O'Hanlon or Roaring Hanna

who delivers himself up only under duress
after forty years in the wilderness
of Antrim and Fermanagh.

From accessed 6/10/08.

In September 2007, [Muldoon] was hired as poetry editor of The New Yorker.

Muldoon has contributed the librettos for four operas by Daron Hagen: Shining Brow (1992), Vera of Las Vegas (1996), Bandanna (1998), and The Antient Concert (2005). His interests have not only included libretto, but the rock lyric as well, penning lines for the Handsome Family as well as the late Warren Zevon whose titular track "My Ride's Here" belongs to a Muldoon collaboration. Muldoon also writes lyrics for (and plays "rudimentary rhythm" guitar in) his own Princeton-based rock band, Rackett.

From accessed 6/10/08.

PAUL MULDOON is primarily the lyric writer for RACKETT, though he seems more and more to be getting the hang of a reissue 1952 butterscotch Telecaster.

From accessed 6/10/08.

Muldoon has written more than ten smaller volumes of poetry, has edited more than ten poetry anthologies and has won nearly ten major literary awards.

From accessed 6/10/08.


by Paul Muldoon

As naught gives way to aught

and oxhide gives way to chain mail

and byrnie gives way to battle-ax

and Cavalier gives way to Roundhead

and Cromwell Road gives way to the Connaught

and I Am Curious (Yellow) gives way to I Am Curious (Blue)

and barrelhouse gives way to Frank’N’Stein

and a pint of Shelley plain to a pint of India Pale Ale

I give way to you.

As bass gives way to baritone

and hammock gives way to hummock

and Hoboken gives way to Hackensack

and bread gives way to reed bed

and bald eagle gives way to Theobald Wolfe Tone

and the Undertones give way to Siouxsie Sioux

and DeLorean, John, gives way to Deloria, Vine,

and Pierced Nose to Big Stomach

I give way to you.

As vent gives way to Ventry

and the King of the World gives way to Finn MacCool

and phone gives way to fax

and send gives way to sned

and Dagenham gives way to Coventry

and Covenanter gives way to caribou

and the caribou gives way to the carbine

and Boulud’s cackamamie to the cock-a-leekie of Boole

I give way to you.

As transhumance gives way to trance

and shaman gives way to Santa

and butcher’s string gives way to vacuum pack

and the ineffable gives way to the unsaid

and pyx gives way to monstrance

and treasure aisle gives way to need-blind pew

and Calvin gives way to Calvin Klein

and Town and Country Mice to Hanta

I give way to you.

As Hopi gives way to Navaho

and rug gives way to rag

and Pax Vobiscum gives way to Tampax

and Tampa gives way to the water bed

and The Water Babies gives way to Worstward Ho

and crapper gives way to loo

and spruce gives way to pine

and the carpet of pine needles to the carpetbag

I give way to you.

As gombeen-man gives way to not-for-profit

and soft soap gives way to Lynn C. Doyle

and tick gives way to tack

and Balaam’s Ass gives way to Mister Ed

and Songs of Innocence gives way to The Prophet

and single-prop Bar-B-Q gives way to twin-screw

and the Salt Lick gives way to the County Line

and “Mending Wall” gives way to “Build Soil”

I give way to you.

As your hummus gives way to your foul madams

and your coy mistress gives way to “The Flea”

and flax gives way to W. D. Flackes

and the living give way to the dead

and John Hume gives way to Gerry Adams

and Television gives way to U2

and Lake Constance gives way to the Rhine

and the Rhine to the Zuider Zee

I give way to you.

As dutch treat gives way to french leave

and spanish fly gives way to Viagra

and slick gives way to slack

and the local fuzz give way to the Feds

and Machiavelli gives way to make-believe

and Howards End gives way to A Room with a View

and Wordsworth gives way to “Woodbine

Willie” and stereo Nagra to quad Niagara

I give way to you.

As cathedral gives way to cavern

and cookie cutter gives way to cookie

and the rookies give way to the All-Blacks

and the shad give way to the smoke shed

and the roughshod give way to the Black Horse avern

that still rings true

despite that T being missing from its sign

where a little nook gives way to a little nookie

when I give way to you.

That Nanook of the North should give way to Man of Aran

as ling gives way to cod

and cod gives way to kayak

and Camp Moosilauke gives way to Club Med

and catamite gives way to catamaran

and catamaran to aluminum canoe

is symptomatic of a more general decline

whereby a cloud succumbs to a clod

and I give way to you.

For as Monet gives way to Juan Gris

and Juan Gris gives way to Joan Miró

and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gives way to Miramax

and the Volta gives way to Travolta, swinging the red-hot lead,

and Saturday Night Fever gives way to Grease

and the Greeks give way to you know who

and the Roman IX gives way to the Arabic 9

and nine gives way, as ever, to zero

I give way to you.

From accessed 6/10/08


by Paul Muldoon

Small wonder

he’s not been sighted all winter;

this old brock’s

been to Normandy and back

through the tunnels and trenches

of his subconscious.

I 1 is father fell victim

to mustard-gas at the Somme;

one of his sons lost a paw

to a gin-trap at Lisbellaw:

another drills

on the Antrim hills’

still-molten lava

in a moth-eaten Balaclava.

An elaborate

system of foxholes and duckboards

leads to the terminal moraine

of an ex-linen baron’s


where he’s part-time groundsman.

I would find it somewhat infra dig

to dismiss him simply as a pig

or heed Gerald of Wales’

tall tales

of badgers keeping badger-slaves.

For when he shuffles

across the esker

I glimpse my grandfather’s whiskers

stained with tobacco-pollen.

When he piddles against a bullaun

I know he carries bovine TB

but what I see

is my father in his Sunday suit’s

bespoke lime and lignite,

patrolling his now-diminished estate

and taking stock of this and that.

From accessed 6/10/08.

About Horse Latitudes, Muldoon's tenth collection of poetry:

No poet is as wicked, as stylish or as fun. (Richard Sanger, Toronto Star)

Muldoon's wit and wordplay can be seen as that, a mask. Is he really serious? Yes indeed, but readers will keep asking the question, as they still do of Jonathan Swift and James Joyce. (Langdon Hammer, New York Times Book Review)

Horse Latitudes is, as we would expect, a brilliant performance; it also offers us an unusually direct insight into some of the passions with which this supposedly detached and manipulative poet burns. (Fran Brearton, Tower Poetry)

Muldoon, whose penchant for weird rhymes, startling juxtapositions and occasional mystification is on full display here, is widely regarded as "difficult", even perverse. Yet Horse Latitudes is the volume I would give to introduce someone to his work. (Gregory Feeley, Philadelphia Inquirer)

When Muldoon is at his best he is one of the most exhilarating of all living poets. (Brian Phillips, Poetry)

This is Muldoon's tenth collection of poems and, as usual, an event. (James Fenton, The Guardian)

Paul Muldoon's Horse Latitudes contains some of his best work, including a wonderful long poem, 'The Old Country', in which every Irish cliché ever heard is both sent up and made magical. (Colm Toibin, Observer Books of the Year)

The most haunting poetry I read this year was in
Horse Latitudes, where Paul Muldoon is as often elegiac as playful, but in either mood an artist of consummate judgement. (Roy Foster, TLS Books of the Year)

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