Born in 1951 in Northern Ireland, Paul Muldoon has emerged as the freshest and most inventive new voice in Irish poetry in a very long time. Unlike older and better-known poets from the same part of the world, Muldoon’s approach to the civic strife of his native province has been oblique, to the extent that it has been present in his verse at all. Typically, he has preferred to exercise his transformative imagination rather than his ability simply to record. MADOC, his sixth volume of poetry, is his most extravagant and sustained expression of his imaginative powers. Its very daring alone will consolidate his already growing reputation in the United States.
The book is divided into two unequal parts. The first consists of seven lyrics in the familiar Muldoon vein—quirky, vaguely anthropomorphic, uncanny. These short poems act both as an introduction to Muldoon’s manner and as a rehearsal of some of the mannerisms of the book’s second part, which is the volume’s book-length title poem. This poem, based on the idea of a community which the English Romantic poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, planned to establish on the banks of the Susquehanna in 1794, is a large number of different, though interlocking, perceptions of the two Romantics’ abortive scheme.
"Madoc” is a long poem made up of a sequence of short, untitled poems. From a formal point of vie, therefore, it contrasts vividly with Southey’s turgid epic of the New World, also entitled MADOC and published in 1805. Moreover, the poems can be combined in various different ways. They provide a nonlinear narrative of life in the imagined community. They offer random views of an imagined present of the community. More ambitiously, they seem collectively to ask where ideas come from. For, in addition to their off-beat perspective on Susquehannan antics, each poem comes with the name of a philosopher attached. Each name provides an alternative...
(The entire section is 459 words.)