Moy Sand and Gravel

Born in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in 1951, Paul Muldoon’s first collection of poetry, New Weather, was published in 1973. Since then Muldoon has garnered much acclaim for his poetic wit and extraordinary wordplay. As a young poet, he clearly was influenced by T. S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and Seamus Heaney. In his more recent collections, Muldoon has taken inspiration from the writings of James Joyce. Moy Sand and Gravel is Muldoon’s ninth collection and one of his most oblique and powerful. He always has delighted in building the unexpected poem, taken sustenance from language. A book of his poetry takes on the qualities of a house of cards. While the casual or clumsy reader may be frustrated by Muldoon’s daunting poetic architecture, the careful and curious reader will come away enriched by the encounter.

Muldoon has stated that “art is a complex business,” but his poems are “complex” and not intentionally “unintelligible.” Writing a poem for him is a slow process, a meticulous process that involves stepping into the darkness. For Muldoon the creative process is extremely draining. Once he emerges out of his self-imposed darkness, he wants “to come out with some shift in how I see the world at the other end.” After reading the forty-five poems of Moy Sand and Gravel, the reader will have wrestled with exotic allusions, word games, and unusual rhyme schemes. While his Irish past most certainly permeates the collection, there is also his transplanted home in New Jersey. Since the late 1980’s, Muldoon and his family have lived in the United States. In 1993 he became the director of the creative writing program at Princeton University. By putting all of these diverse elements together, Muldoon has created a rich and fascinating collection. While overwhelming at times, Moy Sand and Gravel is as significant a collection as it is a playful tease.