Born and raised in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in a house without books, Paul Muldoon has lived in the U.S. for over twenty years, and is generally regarded as the leading Irish poet of his generation. Winner of many distinguished awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, he is also a playwright, essayist, editor, translator, librettist, children’s book author, teacher, and musician.
Muldoon’s sidelong wit, formal ingenuity, and linguistic exuberance are legendary. A master at making and finding patters, he is “distinguished by his idiosyncrasy” (New York Times Book Review). While Muldoon’s personal history, the histories of the people in his northern Irish home town, and his experiences of living in Belfast in the 70’s and early 80’s figure into the poems (as does his life following emigration), they are not so much autobiographical or expressive as cryptic, arcane, and filled with allusions and illusions. As the Times Literary Supplement has it, his verse “delights in a wily, mischievous, nonchalant negotiation between the affections and attachments and Muldoon’s own childhood, family, and place, and the ironic discriminations of a cool literary sensibility and historical awareness…[These are] deft, artfully effortless poems.”
Muldoon’s latest poetry collection, Horse Latitudes, displays his extraordinary facility with rhyme and form, and includes a poem about Bob Dylan, an extended villanelle about soccer moms, and a group of sonnets exploring the aftereffects of adopting a new homeland. Other collections of poetry include The Annals of Chile; Why Brownlee Left; Hay, and Moy Sand and Gravel, for which Muldoon won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. Other distinguished awards include the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Irish Time Poetry Prize, and the Griffin International Prize.
A lyricist, Muldoon has had a song recorded by Warren Zevon, and he plays the guitar for Rackett, a band he started with colleagues at Princeton, where he is the Howard G.B. Clark Professor in the Humanities. He is also the poetry editor for The New Yorker.
Poetry Center Reading:
How often have I carried our family word
for the hot water bottle
to a strange bed,
as my father would juggle a red-hot half-brick
in an old sock
to his childhood settle.
I have taken it into so many lovely heads
or laid it between us like a sword.
A hotel room in New York City
with a girl who spoke hardly any English,
my hand on her breast
like the smouldering one-off spoor of the yeti
or some other shy beast
that has yet to enter the language.
From QUOOF (Faber & Faber, 1983)
I was making my way home late one night
this summer, when I staggered
into a snow drift.
Her eyes spoke of a sloe-year,
her mouth a year of haws.
Was she Aurora, or the goddess Flora,
Artemidora, or Venus bright,
or Anorexia, who left
a lemon stain on my flannel sheet?
It’s all much of a muchness.
In Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital
a kidney machine
supports the latest hunger-striker
to have called off his fast, a saline
drip into his bag of brine.
A lick and a promise. Cuckoo spittle.
I hand my sample to Doctor Maw.
She gives me back a confident All Clear.
From QUOOF (Faber & Faber, 1983)
Should they not have the best of both worlds?
Her feet of clay gave the lie
To the star burned in our mare’s brow.
Would Parsons’ jackass not rest more assured
That cross wrenched from his shoulders?
We had loosed them into one field.
I watched Sam Parsons and my quick father
Tense for the punch below their belts,
For what was neither one thing or the other.
It was as though they has shuddered
To think, of their gaunt, sexless foal
Dropped tonight in the cowshed.
We might yet claim that it sprang from earth
Were it not for the afterbirth
Trailed like some fine, silk parachute,
That we would know from what heights it fell.
From MULES (Wake Forest University Press, 1977)
Doomed as I was to follow a big rig
laden with pigs and a wrecker with its intermittent strobe
I was all the more conscious of piles of rock
marking the scene of a crash,
some with handwritten notes, others a cache
of snapshots in a fogged-up globe.
Even a makeshift mobile may see off one of Calder’s
and the path among the alders
pan out like a prom-queen’s occipital lobe,
yet nothing can confirm one’s sense of being prized
like another’s being anathematized.
From PLAN B (London: Enitharmon, 2009)
Available as a Broadside.