Tom Paulin 1949-
(Full name Thomas Neilson Paulin) English-born Northern Irish poet, playwright, essayist, journalist, critic, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Paulin's career through 2002. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 37.
One of the most respected poets to emerge from the Ulster province of Northern Ireland, Paulin has earned distinction for his challenging, politically-inflected verse that probes issues of cultural identity and champions the virtues of enlightened republicanism. In such volumes as A State of Justice (1977), The Strange Museum (1980), Fivemiletown (1987), and Walking a Line (1994), Paulin moves from trenchant critiques of state tyranny and sectarian prejudice to increasingly imaginative and ambitious forays into issues of history, language, and the intersection of art and politics. Reminiscent of his poetry, Paulin's critical writings espouse an affinity for English literary tradition and an independent-minded spirit borne of eighteenth-century Unitarian dissent.
Born in Leeds, England, on January 25, 1949, Paulin moved with his family to Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1953. Paulin's father was a liberal schoolmaster, and his mother was a doctor who had worked in London hospitals during World War II. His maternal grandparents were Ulster Scots, and Paulin strongly objected to their authoritarian Protestantism. As an adolescent he rebelled against Northern Ireland's Loyalist culture by reading the works of George Orwell, Russian novels, and other revolutionary texts. Paulin left Ireland to attend Hull University in England, earning a B.A. with first-class honors in English. He later studied at Lincoln College, Oxford University, completing a B.Litt in 1973. After leaving Oxford, Paulin taught English at the University of Nottingham from 1972 to 1989 and served as the university's Reader in Poetry from 1989 to 1994. In 1972, along with playwright Brian Friel, poet Seamus Heaney, and actor Stephen Rea, Paulin co-founded the Field Day Theatre Company in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, an organization devoted to producing touring plays in Ireland which dealt with the nation's social and political issues. The company would later stage productions of Paulin's plays The Riot Act (1984) and Seize the Fire (1990). In 1973 Paulin married Munjiet Kaur Khosa, with whom he has two sons, Michael and Niall. Paulin was awarded the Eric Gregory Award for poetry in 1976 and received the Somerset Maugham Award in 1978 for his first published volume of poetry A State of Justice. He received the Geoffrey Faber Memorial prize—which he shared with poet Paul Muldoon—in 1982 and was short-listed for the T. S. Eliot prize in 2000. Paulin has taught at a number of universities, including the University of Virginia and the University of Reading, while additionally serving as the G. M. Young lecturer in English at Hertford College, Oxford University. Paulin is also a well-known television and radio personality in the United Kingdom, frequently appearing as a member of the panel for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television arts program Newsnight Review. In 2000 Paulin received a three-year fellowship from the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts to experiment with free verse.
The title of Paulin's first volume of poetry, A State of Justice, alludes to violent Old Testament retribution as well as religious and political divisions in Northern Ireland. Utilizing descriptive, laconic, and understated verse, Paulin renders the bleakness and suffering of the Ulster region while contrasting the demands of personal and social responsibility. In The Strange Museum, the grimness of historical contingency that dominated A State of Justice gives way to a new formal and aesthetic liveliness that sets hope against pragmatism and finds a measure of compassion and redemption beneath Ulster's civic strife. In such poems as “The Idea in History” and “Man with Hookah,” Paulin celebrates the diversity of world cultures and praises the grace of imaginative expression. The Liberty Tree (1983)—which contains selections from a previous volume The Book of Juniper (1981)—addresses aspects of Irish cultural identity and laments the contradictions of Ulster Protestantism. The metaphorical and imaginative quality of the collection is enhanced by Paulin's use of Ulster dialect and Irish arcana, suggesting both regional and mythic dimensions as well as a corresponding richness and depth. Paulin's satirical voice, alternately vehement and warm, also reveals the poet's progressive sense of imaginative freedom and his deepening attention to contemplation and vision. Fivemiletown, which some have argued marks the maturation of Paulin's poetic voice, explores the tensions between artistic vision and the force of history, specifically the political realities imposed by Ulster Protestantism. Fivemiletown expresses the isolation and frustration of such conditions in alliterative and loosely punctuated lines, incorporating both literary and vernacular references. The collection also draws broadly upon historical events, Masonic symbolism, European philosophy, and intimate personal experiences. Walking a Line, whose title alludes to artist Paul Klee, uses atypical typography and lyrical, open-ended verse to further examine the conflicting worlds of art and politics. Unlike Paulin's earlier work, which tended to be polemical, the poems in Walking a Line indulge in ambiguity and linguistic playfulness that acknowledges both the delight of artistic creation and the inescapable burden of history and social specificity. Paulin's next poetry collection, The Wind Dog (1999), similarly evinces an interest in the vibrancy and sensuousness of language, this time aligned with the highly imaginative art of Marc Chagall. The Invasion Handbook (2002), the first installment in a projected sequence of poems devoted to World War II, deals with European history from the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, to the Battle of Britain during World War II. In this volume, Paulin presents a mosaic of verse and prose-like fragments that draw upon a large cast of historical figures and anecdotes—famous, obscure, and imaginary—in language that is steeped in the vernacular and literary allusion.
Paulin's critical works, Ireland and English Crisis (1984) and Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State (1992), offer elaborations of his interest in the political dimension of artistic expression. Ireland and the English Crisis addresses the provincialism and contradictory allegiances that divide Ireland against itself and against England. In such essays as “English Now” and “A New Look at the Language Question,” Paulin discusses the creation of a nonsectarian Northern Irish republic, the history of the English literary canon, and the ways in which writers respond to political issues. Minotaur contains studies of various poets, from Christina Rossetti to W. B. Yeats, in which Paulin evinces his distrust of state authority and nationalism. He draws connections between each poet's unique worldview and the culture of their era, displaying the universality in poetic themes throughout the ages. Paulin turned his attention to the nineteenth-century English writer and journalist William Hazlitt in The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style (1998), a revisionary critique that champions Hazlitt as an underrated genius with Unitarian roots and a singular prose style. Paulin has also composed modern adaptations of two Greek tragedies for the Field Day Theatre Company: The Riot Act, a reinterpretation of Sophocles's Antigone, and Seize the Fire, a reinterpretation of Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound. In these plays, Paulin establishes parallels between the classic Greek myths and modern social issues—for example, in The Riot Act, King Creon's misuse of state power is compared to Great Britain's colonial rule of Ireland. Additionally, Paulin has edited two notable anthologies, The Faber Book of Political Verse (1986), which contains diverse examples of English, Irish, Scottish, American, and East European political verse, and The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse (1990), a collection of English poetry from William Shakespeare to D. H. Lawrence which displays how vernacular dialect and informal syntax has been used throughout the ages to subvert hegemonic Standard English.
Recognized as one of Northern Ireland's foremost poets, Paulin has been consistently praised for the intelligence, political engagement, and ambition of his verse. Although Paulin has frequently been connected with the “Ulster Poet” tradition, critics have argued that, unlike the works of Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon, his forthright political convictions serve as the dominant characteristic of his work and artistic persona. While his collections A State of Justice and The Strange Museum have attracted a positive overall critical response, Fivemiletown has been generally regarded as Paulin's most significant and successful poetic work. Though some have faulted Paulin's early verse as mere political diatribe, others have cited his later works—particularly Walking a Line and The Invasion Handbook—as examples of Paulin's increasingly imaginative and historically expansive poetic vision. However, the complexity of Paulin's work, most notably his incorporation of unfamiliar Irish dialect and obscure historical references, has caused several reviewers to label his verse as obtuse and hermetic. In addition, Paulin's politically-opinionated authorial voice, though frequently praised in his poetry, has often polarized the readers of his critical writings. While his supporters have approved of his radical dissent and rejection of state-sponsored aesthetics, his detractors have asserted that Paulin's analytical skills are marred by anger and accusatory rhetoric. Despite such misgivings, most critics have noted Paulin's ability to provide unique and incisive analysis of canonic literary works. His study of William Hazlitt in The Day-Star of Liberty has been well received by scholars and academics as a significant work of cultural recovery.
Theoretical Locations (poetry) 1975
Thomas Hardy: The Poetry of Perception (criticism) 1975
A State of Justice (poetry) 1977
Personal Column (poetry) 1978
The Strange Museum (poetry) 1980
The Book of Juniper [illustrations by Noel Connor] (poetry) 1981
Liberty Tree (poetry) 1983
A New Look at the Language Question (criticism) 1983
Ireland and the English Crisis (essays and journalism) 1984
The Riot Act: A Version of Sophocles's “Antigone” (play) 1984
The Faber Book of Political Verse [editor and author of introduction] (poetry and criticism) 1986
Fivemiletown (poetry) 1987
The Hillsborough Script: A Dramatic Satire (play) 1987
The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse [editor and author of introduction] (poetry and criticism) 1990
Seize the Fire: A Version of Aeschylus's “Prometheus Bound” (play) 1990
Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State (essays and criticism) 1992
Selected Poems, 1972-1990 (poetry) 1993
Walking a Line (poetry) 1994
Writing to the Moment: Selected Critical Essays, 1980-1996 (essays)...
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SOURCE: Shippey, Tom. “Tribalizing the Dialect of the Pure.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4571 (9-15 November 1990): 1198.
[In the following review, Shippey praises Paulin's editorial selections in The Faber Book of Vernacular Verse, though objects to his refusal to acknowledge class and ideology, rather than aesthetics, as the basis for drawing distinctions between linguistic conventions.]
Standard English, for some reason, arouses horrid passions. Some have pointed out that that is because it is seen as female: it is “pure”, but its “purity” is always under threat, if not “assault”, by those who wish to “corrupt” it. Fortunately there is never any shortage of chivalrous self-appointed rescuers to rush forward and protect it from “solecisms”, “Americanisms” and other forms of the non-Standard-English Comus-rout: though one might think it rather depressing for them to discover, every time they turn their collective back, that the language has gone and got itself glued to another chair, under threat from some other vile enchanter. Does she like that sort of thing? If she does, maybe she should be allowed to follow her inclinations—change, indeed, even revert—rather than being continuously pestered by officious saviours.
What is Standard English anyway? One answer would be to say it is a system of (I make it) twenty vowel-phonemes. These, in...
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SOURCE: Young, Dudley. “The Sins of the Father.” Spectator 268, no. 8533 (1 February 1992): 29.
[In the following review, Young argues that Paulin's critical writings in Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State are marred by academic political correctness.]
What is remarkable about these essays [in Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State] on various poets (mostly English and American) of the past two centuries is the way they suddenly cave in here and there. Admirably and unfussily alert to what quickens and what deadens imagination, Paulin's lively prose is nevertheless frequently hijacked by the widespread modern malaise that would reduce life's complexities to a simple war between Us (the blamelessly victimised children) and Them (the wickedly empowered fathers). One might call this ‘Puritan Paranoia’, and it is an old complaint: its current version (aka PC = Political Correctness) is already disrupting academic life in America and looking to gain a foothold here. To find it stewing away inside the prose of one of Britain's better literary academics probably means that we should sit up and pay attention.
Consider, for example, the strangeness of Paulin's essay on Yeats' ‘Easter 1916’, originally given as a lecture at Sligo. Here one would expect to find the young Ulster buck going a few rounds with the venerable Anglo-Irish fox, and yet the match never takes...
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SOURCE: Carnell, Simon. “A Protestant Imagination.” New Statesman and Society 5, no. 189 (14 February 1992): 38.
[In the following review, Carnell commends Paulin's insightful critical readings in Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State.]
Raymond Williams once remarked of the poetry criticism of fellow-Marxist Christopher Caudwell, that it was not specific enough to be wrong. It has long been the fate of even good critics committed, like Tom Paulin, to a social reading of poetic texts to be suspected of something like the investigation of intricate machinery with a mallet. Surely, the argument runs, in poetry, if nowhere else, there survives a “private lyric space”; a home to unique “moments of voiced immortality”, where the “spirit speaks clearly and completely”.
These quotations come, in fact, not from some fundamental adversary of the “social readings” of poetry in Paulin's remarkable new book, [Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State,] but from his treatment of Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson in it. By closely defining Rosetti's “intimate vernacular” over against Tennyson's “institutional Parnassian”; and Dickinson's “self-defining solitude” in relation to “the heraldic language that belongs with the state's hardware”, both poets emerge, convincingly and surprisingly, Ariadne-like in relation to the Minotaur of the state.
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SOURCE: O'Donoghue, Bernhard. “Involved Imaginings.” In The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland, edited by Neil Corcoran, pp. 171-87. Chester Springs, Penn: Ogmore-by-the-Sea Books, 1992.
[In the following essay, O'Donoghue provides an overview of Paulin's career and defends the political realism of his poetry as a integral aspect of his artistic imagination, noting Paulin's admiration of James Joyce and placing Paulin within the tradition of European Romanticism.]
The criticisms most commonly made of the poetry of Tom Paulin are, firstly, that it is over-cryptic, and, secondly, that it is more directly concerned with politics than it is proper for poetry to be. In this essay I want to argue that the crypticism is precisely a product of the reluctance to be political in a campaigning way, though Paulin's language and terms of reference are unflinchingly drawn from the public domain. There is no doubt that, in the Western European literary tradition, it is decidedly against a poet's interests to descend to the political, in our era at least; I want to suggest that Paulin is particularly disinterested in this respect in that his concern with politics runs counter to all his aesthetic and literary instincts. But that a writer of his generation and geographical origins should be concerned with political realities is inevitable, as the following outline of his...
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SOURCE: Diggory, Terence. Review of Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State, by Tom Paulin. College English 55, no. 3 (March 1993): 328-33.
[In the following review, Diggory compliments Paulin's reading of poetry in Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State, despite objecting to the volume's “heavy-handed” political commentary.]
In keeping with current trends in literary studies more broadly, recent studies of poetry focus on the various conditions that determine or at least constrain the acts of writing or reading. Practitioners of this approach agree in rejecting the assumption, grounded in the identification of poetry and lyric, that the poetic voice is timeless, universal, transcendent—in other words, free of constraint. However, there remains considerable room for disagreement about the source of the constraints on poetic voice and about their consequences. Of the four books under review here, those of Tom Paulin and Peter Makin focus on the external constraints of society, whereas those of Marjorie Perloff and John Lennard highlight the internal constraints of the medium. In the latter view, attention to the medium appears to offer a source of resistance to those larger social forces that, in Paulin's and Makin's analyses, threaten to overwhelm the poet.
The Minotaur of Tom Paulin's title is first introduced as an image of “state repression” (3), and resistance...
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SOURCE: Potts, Robert. “Stand-offs with History.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4701 (7 May 1993): 26.
[In the following review, Potts praises Paulin's verse in Selected Poems, 1972-1990, commenting that “Paulin has developed an endearing and effective vehicle for his political commitments.”]
Tom Paulin's poetry, like his criticism, has been as much a questioning of national identity as a quest for it, a troubled Protestant voice finding its roots in a dissenting republican tradition, loathing and loving the kitsch Britishness of Unionist culture, admiring English literature even when exposing the less appealing politics which underwrite it. Paulin's own position as a virtual expatriate from a region of ambiguous political status and his belief in a secular Irish republic leave him grasping for “an identity which has as yet no formal or institutional existence”. In “Before History”, writing from the bare, sun-scrubbed room of the isolated self, he describes the way “the spirit hungers for form”, and that hunger expresses itself as much in emetic rejections of the current political menu as in residual allegiances to “a gritty sort of prod baroque / I must return to like my own boke”.
The Selected Poems is a welcome opportunity to review this ideal home-hunting, particularly in the light of a Pauline shift from a critical unionism to a non-sectarian...
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SOURCE: Maguire, Sarah. “Dwelling with the Tongue.” Poetry Review 84, no. 2 (summer 1994): 70-1.
[In the following review, Maguire praises Paulin's blend of lyricism and “self-questioning” in Walking a Line.]
Nissen huts, bungalows, carports, studios, bars: hardly a poem goes by in Tom Paulin's glorious new collection, Walking a Line, without some building or other being brought to notice. And not only the building but its living space, its social and historical nexus, its place. This architectural sensitivity is nothing new in Paulin's poetry. From the very beginning his poems featured the ‘gantries, mills and steeples’, the ‘miles of terrace-houses’ and the ‘strange museums’ of Adam houses and Georgian rectories in which ‘History could happen’ (in the title poem of The Strange Museum). This is not a history of external events or rote-learned dates, but a rich, complex history in which both subjectivity, and objects themselves, find their meanings in relation to one another: ‘Caught in the nets of class, / History became carpets, chairs’, he writes in his anti-Hegelian poem, ‘The Idea in History’. Paulin is not so much a poet of cities, of the seething interrelationships and juxtapositions of buildings, detritus and humans, but of the building out on a limb, of ‘The Bungalow on the Unapproved Road’ in Fivemiletown. Even the bed-sits that...
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SOURCE: Lucas, John. “Free to Roam.” New Statesman and Society 7, no. 312 (22 July 1994): 44.
[In the following review, Lucas lauds Paulin's playful use of typography, language, and aural effects in Walking a Line.]
“To be one self is not to be.” The melancholy wit of Pessoa's remark anticipates by half-a-century one of the cherished commonplaces of postmodernism. But Pessoa knew what he was about when he farmed out his poems between four different personae. Each of them takes a line. By contrast, postmodernist writing inevitably toes the line of collapsed narrative, of author(ity). It's writing made for, and by, the computer: cut-and-paste, touch-of-a-button rearrangement.
I don't suppose Tom Paulin has ever been accused of toeing the line. He can, though, take it, as several poems in Walking a Line show (the viciously witty “The Other England”, for example, about the ghastliness of the royals).
He also candidly acknowledges the world of the “sign”. His volume takes advantage of opportunities brought about by sophisticated machine typography. But concessions to the eye are outweighed by his use of the line as a construct followed by the ear. It's significant that he does away with all punctuation other than the parenthetic dash.
You have to read his poems, as you have to read John Clare's, listening for meaning to emerge...
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SOURCE: Mackinnon, Lachlan. “Uneasy Swagger.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4762 (7 August 1994): 7.
[In the following review, Mackinnon admires Paulin's ambitiousness as a poet but finds shortcomings in the underdeveloped and suggestive verse of Walking a Line.]
In his early poem, “A New Society”, Tom Paulin longed for a world that would be “unaggressively civilian”, where “an unremarkable privacy” would be possible; although at first sight eirenic, the poem's subtext, a partial reversal of Larkin's judgments of his own world, showed a concern with poetry as a contribution to political discourse that has remained a constant in his work. In Liberty Tree (1983), Paulin was still hoping for a “sweet / equal republic”, but in Fivemiletown (1987) he engaged more thoroughly with the agonies of Ulster Unionism, imagining how it would be to feel “like a dog / in my own province”. Political hope was thwarted.
We have had seven years to become accustomed to the diction Paulin created for himself in Fivemiletown, based essentially on Ulster Protestant dialect, but its effect is no less abrasive in Walking a Line. The title is revealingly ambiguous, suggesting that the poet is either preserving an imperilled balance or accepting Paul Klee's observation about drawing. In the first poem, “Klee/Clover”, the latter meaning seems to predominate....
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SOURCE: Hofmann, Michael. “Sevenyearson.” London Review of Books 16, no. 18 (22 September 1994): 24.
[In the following review, Hofmann offers a positive assessment of Walking a Line, despite asserting that the collection is a “transitional” work that does not match the brilliance of Fivemiletown.]
Everybody knows—Paul Muldoon said it on the radio recently—that writing poetry can only get harder the more you keep at it. Against that is the belief, or perhaps the determination, that it shouldn't. That instead of the diminishing returns, spending twice the time saying half as much twice as cumbrously/flashily/winsomely, one should use craft and expertise to overthrow the stiflement and self-importance of craft and expertise—to be as uninhibited and fresh and airy as a beginner. Not continue to paint yourself into a corner with aching brush and paint gone hard, but take a line for a walk, as Tom Paulin says [in Walking a Line], taking a leaf from Paul Klee, whose daily wit, invention and application (not to mention his use of bastard materials) stand behind this, his fifth book of poems.
It is seven years since the appearance of Paulin's fourth, Fivemiletown. To say that was one of the best books of the Eighties isn't enough: it is one of the best books I know, or for that matter, am capable of imagining: a corrosive and uproarious litany of bad sex, bad...
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SOURCE: Schwartz, Sanford. Review of Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State, by Tom Paulin. Comparative Literature Studies 32, no. 4 (1995): 539-42.
[In the following review, Schwartz commends Paulin's historicized literary criticism in Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State but finds his extreme rage against state and aesthetic ideologies potentially counterproductive.]
The mythical minotaur, half man/half bull, was caged in a labyrinth designed by Dædalus, the artificer whose dramatic flight out of the labyrinth provided a later artificer, James Joyce, with a symbol for the transcendent power of art. In the introduction to his new book, [Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State,] the prominent poet-editor-critic Tom Paulin recalls the scene in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist where Stephen Dedalus resolves to fashion Dædalian wings and escape the labyrinth of his own troubled heritage: “When the soul of a man is born in this country,” Dedalus tells his Irish nationalist friend Davin, “there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets.” But unlike Dublin's Joyce, Belfast's Paulin seems attracted less to the figure of Dædalus than that of Theseus, who ventures into the labyrinth to slay the monster who feeds on Athenian youth. Paulin's politics are driven by a passionate hatred of the...
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SOURCE: Jones, Richard C. “Talking amongst Ourselves: Language, Politics, and Sophocles on the Field Day Stage.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 4, no. 2 (fall 1997): 232-46.
[In the following essay, Jones offers a comparative analysis of Paulin's The Riot Act and Seamus Heaney's The Cure at Troy, both of which are adaptations of Greek tragedies by Sophocles.]
The Field Day Theatre Company in Derry, Northern Ireland, has made the politics of translation central to its theatrical mission since its inception in 1980. In The Riot Act by Tom Paulin, and The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney, the company has staged two contemporary adaptations of Sophoclean tragedy. Both of these are truly original works, not merely literal translations; both are explicitly anachronistic in places. Despite the political nature of the Field Day enterprise, however, neither Paulin nor Heaney overtly addresses political subject matter through their content. In both plays, however, language serves both to delineate and to demarcate characters by class, power, and at least explicit connection with nationality. Paulin's Creon undergoes a personal transformation expressed in his language, and the play is as much about Creon's finding an appropriate voice as it is about Antigone's tragedy. Heaney, too, uses language as subject as well as means of discourse: switches from verse to prose,...
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SOURCE: Taylor, D. J. “Dry Salvage.” New Statesman 127, no. 4388 (5 June 1998): 48-9.
[In the following review, Taylor commends Paulin's revisionary critical study of “Victorian journalist” William Hazlitt in The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style.]
Halfway through New Grub Street, George Gissing's bleak expose of the late-Victorian literary marketplace, there is a deeply symbolic episode in which Yule, the broken-down man of letters, publishes a book entitled English Prose of the 19th Century. The theme of this savagely written and, needless to say, poorly received opus is the injurious effect wreaked on contemporary literature by journalists. One suspects that the author sympathises profoundly with his character; Gissing's collected letters are full of attacks on the yellow press. At the same time, it is difficult not to feel that his—and Yule's—pessimism is hugely misplaced.
“Victorian journalist” is a dangerously catch-all phrase. A profession that could simultaneously accommodate a theologian manqué such as R. H. Hutton and an out-and-out scandalmonger such as Edmund Yates must have a certain elasticity. All the same, it takes only the most basic forensic analysis to establish the debt that many a major Victorian novelist owes to his or her roots in the magazine trade: Dickens, on whose journalistic grounding Hutton himself...
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SOURCE: Cook, Jon. “A Hack who Happens to Be a Genius.” Financial Times (13 June 1998): 5.
[In the following review, Cook compliments Paulin for rescuing William Hazlitt from “cultural obscurity” in The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style.]
Both hated and admired in his own life-time, Hazlitt was a vehement presence in the highly politicised culture of Regency England. Since then his image has faded. Most of his work is out of print, although some survives in anthologies and selections. His memory has been honoured among an older generation of English radicals, and academic lit. crit. has turned its attention to him in its relentless pursuit of subjects. Hazlitt comes to momentary life through acts of critical devotion and reclamation, but he is not present to us in the way that, say, Jane Austen or Keats can be.
Tom Paulin's book [The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style] sets out to change all this. His argument on Hazlitt's behalf is passionate, learned and attentive. Like Hazlitt, Paulin knows that good criticism can be thrilling and sensuous as well as judgmental. He immerses himself in the texture of Hazlitt's prose and restores its intense verbal life.
In Paulin's reading of them, Hazlitt's essays become energetic networks of allusion and quotation. They hum and buzz with the excitements of writing for the moment...
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SOURCE: Foot, Paul. “Excusing the Messenger.” Spectator 281, no. 8866 (11 July 1998): 31.
[In the following review, Foot commends Paulin's analysis of Hazlitt's prose in The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style but finds fault in Paulin's failure to address unflattering and contradictory aspects of Hazlitt's life.]
Throughout the reading of this thrilling book [The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style] I was haunted by a memory. In 1991, when I was working on a radio programme about poetry and revolution, Fiona Maclean of the BBC instructed me to interview a reader in poetry at Nottingham University I had never heard of called Tom Paulin. In the recording studio he listened impatiently to our intentions. He had only one question: ‘Who is reading the poetry?’ An actor, we assured him. He was visibly irritated. No, he replied, he was going to read it. Seizing his copy of Paradise Lost, eyes sparkling, he was off, his thick Ulster accent a shocking defiance to standard BBC plumminess:
Still govern thou my Song, Urania, and fit audience find, though few. But drive far off the barbarous dissonance Of Bacchus and his revellers, the Race Of that wilde rout that tore the Thracian bard In Rhodope …
He broke off to hail the old poet's indomitability in...
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SOURCE: Garnett, Mark. Review of The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style, by Tom Paulin. Political Quarterly 69, no. 4 (October-December 1998): 472-73.
[In the following review, Garnett finds Paulin's analysis of William Hazlitt in The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style to be overly occupied with hidden meanings and lacking in political understanding.]
Hazlitt is a major figure in the English radical tradition. He bestrides both literature and politics as has only Orwell in our times. It needed courage for Tom Paulin to take up this project [The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style]. Any well-known author who writes about Hazlitt runs the risk of inviting comparisons; when, as in this case, readers know that the study has evolved over several years, judgements on the respective styles of author and subject are unavoidable. To his credit, Paulin has not been distracted from his task; he aimed to praise Hazlitt, not to compete with him, and his familiar, quirky voice is consistent throughout. The effect is something like an extended lecture which brings a kind of coherence to Hazlitt's diffuse writings.
Unfortunately Paulin sets off from a false premise. He states that Hazlitt is ‘almost never read or cited or studied’. But Hazlitt's work is probably read, enjoyed and remembered today much more than that of his...
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SOURCE: Matthews, Steven. “Protestant Vocables.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5056 (25 February 2000): 23.
[In the following review, Matthews praises Paulin's meditative tone and use of aural effects in The Wind Dog, calling the collection “a vitally important book.”]
Poets from Ireland have consistently placed much personal and political emphasis on the need to deploy form in ways that make their poetry consonant with the speaking voice. From Yeats to Eavan Boland, from Heaney to Paul Muldoon, this ambition has set a marker of their particular perspective on tradition. However, even as his attention here remains intensely focused on Ireland's divided inheritance, Tom Paulin's The Wind Dog offers a more radical solution to the issue of local voice than that taken by his immediate peers or forebears.
To this extent, the book builds on the advances made in the previous collection, Walking a Line (1994), which deployed its dialect through (often short) lines punctuated solely by dashes, indicating pauses and changes of pace or direction. But the present collection is much more assured with its method, not least for being overt about vocal origins, impulses and challenges. “Stile” draws our attention to Hardy's use of “appertaining” in a passage from Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a use Paulin calls “dogged doltish pedantic / a plodsome...
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SOURCE: Paulin, Tom, Colin MacCabe, and Bethan Marshall. “Interview: Tom Paulin Talks to Bethan Marshall and Colin MacCabe.” Critical Quarterly 42, no. 1 (spring 2000): 86-99.
[In the following interview, Paulin discusses his views on religious tradition and radical dissent, anti-Semitism in the work of T. S. Eliot, ignorance of canonical literature, and contemporary Irish and British politics.]
[MacCabe]: Tom, would you like to start by describing your own intellectual formation?
[Paulin]: I was born in England, baptised Church of England, attended the Church of Ireland when I was a kid—we went to the north of Ireland in 1953 when I was four. My grandmother on my mother's side was Scottish Presbyterian. She and my grandfather moved to the north of Ireland in 1912. I remember occasionally going to my grandmother's church, Fisherwick Presbyterian. The Church of Ireland is very low church—no candles or images or that sort of thing.
And then, I suppose, over the years I got interested in Puritanism as a cultural formation, partly through studying American literature, because if you study American literature you have to talk about puritanism and you have to know something about it. Why is it when English literature has so many important Puritan writers that there are almost no literary studies of puritanism? Think of Donald Davie's A Gathered...
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SOURCE: Richards, Shaun. “Into That Rinsing Glare?: Field Day's Irish Tragedies.” Modern Drama 43, no. 1 (spring 2000): 109-19.
[In the following essay, Richards compares and contrasts Paulin's Seize the Fire with Seamus Heaney's The Cure at Troy, drawing attention to Paulin's portrayal of Prometheus as a revolutionary hero.]
At a symposium named “Writers on Stage” (Peacock Theatre, Dublin, July 1997), Seamus Deane commented that while many contemporary Irish playwrights may refer to the political situation in works that “can have great emotional appeal,” they are still limited in that “they do not involve, or the manifestation of such feeling does not involve, an analysis of the power situation.” Deane used the Field Day Theatre Company's production of Stewart Parker's Pentecost (1987) as an example of his overall point that while such works may make audiences feel pity for the onstage victims of the political system, they do not inform them as to the extent to which “[t]he political system isn't something that is separate or apart from them. They are the inhabitors of it and they are the creators of it in many ways.”1 But when riot and sectarian violence erupt in the province, the term adopted by commentators is “tragedy”—a term that functions equally as a description of political situation and theatrical genre. In both instances, powerlessness...
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SOURCE: Hamilton, Christopher. Review of The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style, by Tom Paulin. Southern Humanities Review 34, no. 3 (summer 2000): 266-68.
[In the following review, Hamilton criticizes Paulin's failure to address the contradictory personality and political convictions of William Hazlitt in The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style.]
Tom Paulin has set himself an ambitious task in the present book [The Day-Star of Liberty: William Hazlitt's Radical Style]: to bring the work of William Hazlitt to the attention of a literary public which seems to have forgotten him—or never to have paid him much attention. And he has made his task all the more ambitious by seeking to do so through discussing the style of Hazlitt's writings. For, even as writers of all kinds are concerned in various ways with style, there is always the nagging feeling that a certain style might, in any given writer, be used to conceal a vacuity of content. One has only to think of what is said about a great deal of postmodern deconstructive writing to see the point. In Hazlitt's case, however, there is little possibility of separating his style from the content of his thinking. In his work, style and content live and breathe as one. And this is clearly one of the central insights which has prompted Paulin to write this book.
Paulin presents Hazlitt as a...
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SOURCE: “Tom Paulin, Walking a Line, and Paul Klee.” Cambridge Quarterly 31, no. 1 (2002): 57-75.
[In the following essay, the critic contends that Paulin's poetry in Walking a Line reveals an avant-garde aesthetic that, like the experimental artwork of Paul Klee, pushes beyond rational experience and political engagement to explore the limits of language and representation.]
In Walking a Line my interest is in the dangerous edge of things.
Tom Paulin (1996)1
Since his initial publication of A State of Justice (1977), Tom Paulin as essayist, academic, and poet has been described by critics such as Patricia Craig in terms of the ‘social criticism’ of his work. In his review of Fivemiletown (1987), George Watson refers to Paulin as ‘an uncomfortable, spikey poet’, while Kathleen Jamie calls him a ‘liberating critic’ and portrays Paulin as a poetic rebel and critical iconoclast.2 What these and most of Paulin's reviewers share is the idea that, as a Northern Irish poet, he is more politically grounded than his counterpart Paul Muldoon; a characterisation that is held on to by Paulin himself in his critical essays and television appearances. Paulin comments: ‘If you grow up in a society that goes to the edge—the edge of civil war—you...
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SOURCE: Newey, Adam. “Colonised by Words.” New Statesman 131, no. 4579 (18 March 2002): 52-3.
[In the following review, Newey offers praise for the poems in The Invasion Handbook, which he favorably compares to T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land.]
I suspect that Tom Paulin's latest collection [The Invasion Handbook] will appeal to one (admittedly large) generation, and pass all others by. By which I mean the generation whose parents experienced total war or occupation, and for whom the years 1939-45 stand out as the glowering landmark that dominates and defines our moral and political landscapes. Those old enough to have experienced the war may find this book too ambivalent, or rather multivalent, to speak to that experience; those removed from it by a further generation will shrug and ask what all the fuss is about. To them, the names Arnhem, Monte Cassino or El Alamein have no more special resonance than, say, Alma, Sebastopol or Inkerman. They can look to the future with the luxury of amnesia.
But to those of us with intimate proxy knowledge of the Second World War—raised on remembrances of bombing and privation, on comic-book Tommies and Where Eagles Dare—this speaks most directly, because it gives proper form to the centrality of the war. It makes what Paulin calls “a looseleaf epic” of it. Yet this is no modern Iliad. It doesn't set out to...
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SOURCE: Porter, Peter. “Poetry, Politics, Polemics.” Spectator 288, no. 9065 (4 May 2002): 41.
[In the following review, Porter lauds Paulin's complex historical and political perspective in The Invasion Handbook, though suggests that the volume resembles prose more than poetry.]
Poets are often the most recalcitrant ideologues, the most severe dislikers of the status quo. What the Muses forget to tell them is that their art is not in itself well equipped to advance their beliefs. Or, perhaps this applies only to the present day when opportunities for influencing public opinion are drowned out by the sheer volume of print and broadcast media and by the spread of literacy, ensuring that anything difficult or extreme won't get into the papers. Put bluntly, the best propaganda for revolutionary causes is not an analysis of civil corruption (Tom Paine at one time and Tom Paulin today) but straightforward partisanship coupled with a catchy tune (Rouget de Lisle's ‘La Marsellaise’ and the Beatles' ‘Give Peace a Chance’.
Tom Paulin knows this and his spirited appearances in the press and on the box are intended to carry the fight into the market place. He is heir to the Puritan instinct that righteous indignation is a guarantee of rhetorical fireworks. There is a degree of contrariness in his prosecuting of his polemic. His extreme view of Northern Ireland is anti-Unionist...
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SOURCE: Kermode, Frank. “Reports from the Not Too Distant Canon.” London Review of Books 24, no. 10 (23 May 2002): 9.
[In the following review, Kermode commends the ambition and sophistication of The Invasion Handbook, though notes that the volume's many obscure references may require supplementary reading.]
This book [The Invasion Handbook] is a sequence or collection of poems and other things concerning events in Europe in the period between the Treaty of Versailles and, broadly speaking, the Battle of Britain. Some of the events and personalities, like the Treaties of Versailles and Locarno, are considerately annotated, but others, some of them much more obscure than these, are not. Consequently the reader's share, as Henry James called it, is quite half; or, to put it another way, unless you are a polymathic historian with some knowledge of literature you will need to do quite a lot of research to figure out what Paulin is doing.
This is not a complaint; we are dealing with a modern poet and would hardly expect a linked and lacquered historical account of the between-war years, with one thing giving rise inevitably, tragically, to another, although there is some of that in the pages on Versailles, which inescapably had more than economic consequences. Certain aspects have attracted the poet's attention; he confers it, sensing no obligation to say why he wrote about...
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SOURCE: Laird, Nicholas. “The Poet's Ulcer.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5179 (5 July 2002): 5-7.
[In the following review, Laird offers a negative assessment of The Invasion Handbook, which he judges to be “a welter of misplaced aggression and blame.”]
Tom Paulin is an angry man. Like most converts, he has a zealous disposition. His opinions have frequently caused offence, most recently when he is alleged to have told an Egyptian newspaper that “Brooklyn-born” Jewish settlers in Israel “should be shot dead”, and on the BBC's Late Review when he said that British Paratroopers present at Bloody Sunday were “thugs sent in by public schoolboys to kill innocent people. They were racist bastards.” There is little vatic about Paulin. Fivemiletown, his 1987 volume, was a remarkable book that married his obsession with the vernacular (both Northern Irish and American) and the political in a shocking, brilliant manner: full of hard, gaudy fragments like smashed stained glass. After it anything might seem an anti-climax, and it has. The positions have hardened (“Zionist SS”) and any political subtlety or compassion has been subsumed by causes. The grey of the cover of Fivemiletown has been refracted through Paulin's mind and come out black and white.
This intolerant thought fits with a fascination with dialectal language: all exclusive...
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Bradley, Ian. “Pens and Swords.” History Today 36, no. 10 (October 1986): 56.
Bradley praises Paulin's editorial contributions to The Faber Book of Political Verse, though notes that “the popular tradition of English political verse is rather under-represented.”
Hufstader, Jonathan. “Tom Paulin.” In Tongue of Water, Teeth of Stone: Northern Irish Poetry and Social Violence, pp. 189-218. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
Hufstader examines how Paulin portrays the political dimensions of Ireland throughout his body of work.
Shulevitz, Judith. “The Close Reader: Senescent Prejudices.” New York Times Book Review (12 January 2003): section 7, p. 23.
Shulevitz explores the critical reaction to The Invasion Handbook and offers her own negative assessment of the collection, noting that Paulin comes across as “someone who needs to belabor the obvious in order to drown out his own conscience.”
Wieseltier, Leon. “Washington Diarist: Tutor.” New Republic 227, nos. 27-28 (30 December 2002-6 January 2003): 42.
Wieseltier discusses the charges of anti-Semitism brought against Paulin after the publication of his poem “Killed in Crossfire.”
Additional coverage of Paulin's life and...
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