Thursday, October 04, 2007

Paul Muldoon

I enjoy modern (i.e. contemporary) poetry, but I don't exactly "follow" it. So it wasn't a suprise when I read that Paul Muldoon had been appointed poetry editor of the New Yorker and I realised I' d never heard of him.

So more fool me - because his poetry is great stuff!

Muldoon is a Northern Irishman like his senior elder statesman Seamus Heaney (whose poetry I enjoy immensely). He has been Professor of Poetry at Oxford and more latterly Professor of the Humanities and Creative Writing at Princeton University.

I got a couple of his books out of the library - the Pulitzer Prize winning Moy Sand & Gravel and the more recent Horse Latitudes. The poems are great fun, challenging, harsh and beautiful (though it helps to reads them with that hard/soft Armagh accent in your mind as well).

I'll be interested to see how it effects to poetry at the New Yorker - this article on Muldoon makes mention of "is there really such a thing as a New Yorker poem" -In 1990, Muldoon published a mischievous poem called Capercaillies (in Madoc: A Mystery), in which the first letters of each line spelt out, in acrostic, Is This a New Yorker Poem Or What? (The New Yorker maintains that it rejected the poem.) But is there really such a thing as a "New Yorker poem"? - and I think there is - unfortuantely often somewhat insipid, although with some notable exceptions.

The myth goes (recounted in another useful article) that "The first meeting between Seamus Heaney and the 17-year-old Paul Muldoon has bred a number of apocryphal tales. Muldoon was said to have sent some poems to Heaney, asking, "What's wrong with these?", to which the future Nobel Laureate apparently replied, "Nothing". In another account, Heaney is alleged to have said: "Muldoon has nothing to learn from me; I may have something to learn from him." "

There's also a NY Times article here.

Pineapples and Pomegranates
Paul Muldoon

In Memory of Yehuda Amichai

To think that, as a boy of thirteen, I would grapple
with my first pineapple,
its exposed breast
setting itself as another test
of my will-power, knowing in my bones
that it stood for something other than itself alone
while having absolutely no sense
of its being a world-wide symbol of munificence.
Munificence - right? Not munitions, if you understand
where I'm coming from. As if the open hand
might, for once, put paid
to the hand-grenade
in one corner of the planet.
I'm talking about pineapples - right? - not pomegranates.


One Last Draw of the Pipe

Heard a piece of Roscommon folklore the other night. At some village or other, they lay pipes full of tobacco on the graves of the new buried in case they may like a draw of the pipe. A wild American indian kind of buisness [sic] it seems.
--A letter from W. B. Yeats to Douglas Hyde, October 1889

Even though it happened as long ago as the late fifties, I could still draw
you a picture of the place. A little draw

through which we were helping a neighbor draw
green hay when we would suddenly draw

level with a freshly dug hole. He must have been torn between one last

of the pipe and hurriedly trying to draw

a veil of thatch and pine boughs over the hole before having to withdraw,
that ghost who may even now draw

a bead on me. On the day Sitting Bull was shot, his old trick pony (once
such a draw

in Buffalo Bill's circus because he was given to dance

when he heard a volley of shots) would automatically draw

himself up and raise one hoof.
Even now I hear it coming down. I hear it coming down on my yew-bough

(photo: Eamonn McCabe)

1 comment:

drew said...

And for what it's worth, which is a great deal I think, Muldoon seems an entirely down-to-earth and quite personable individual. The few chats I had with him while standing in line for coffee during grad school were always quite pleasant.

Speaking of poets at Princeton: I also highly recommend the work of C.K. Williams, if you've never checked him out.