Paul Muldoon Muldoon, Paul (Vol. 166) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Paul Muldoon 1951-

Irish poet, editor, librettist, translator, playwright, children's writer, and lecturer.

The following entry presents an overview of Muldoon's career through 2002. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 32 and 72.

A renowned poet who emerged from the Irish literary renaissance of the 1960s and 1970s, Muldoon has earned distinction for his firm poetic voice, linguistic skill, and complex postmodern sensibility. His first full book of poems, New Weather (1973), published when Muldoon was only twenty-one, signaled the beginning of an impressive oeuvre including the collections Mules (1977), Why Brownlee Left (1980), Quoof (1983), Meeting the British (1987), Madoc: A Mystery (1990), and The Annals of Chile (1994). Muldoon often employs complex and idiosyncratic rhymes and puns to reshape poetic conventions and to convey his unique view of contemporary life. His poems examine diverse ideas and questions involving Irish identity, gender, race, and nature. By blending literary genres and integrating aspects of comedy, film, television, and other elements of popular culture in his poetry, Muldoon has recast the poetic narrative in a multidimensional manner, employing reinvented forms to explore issues of love, death, loss, identity, and the roles of poetry and the poet in society.

Biographical Information

Born in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in 1951, Muldoon spent his childhood in the town of Collegelands, near a village called the Moy. The son of Catholic parents, Muldoon was raised in a Catholic section of the predominantly Protestant region. Muldoon's father, Patrick, worked as a laborer and market gardener, while his mother, Brigid, a schoolteacher, taught in a local school. After attending primary school in Collegelands, Muldoon went to St. Patrick's College, where he learned Gaelic and studied Irish literature. While at St. Patrick's, Muldoon began writing poetry. He wrote and published his first poems in Gaelic, later switching to English to give himself greater linguistic control. During this period Muldoon also discovered the poetry of Robert Frost and T. S. Eliot, poets who have consistently influenced Muldoon and his work. After leaving St. Patrick's, he enrolled at Queens University in Belfast, where, in addition to studying literature and philosophy, he met a number of Irish writers, most notably Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, James Simmons, and Seamus Heaney, a group who would later become known as the Ulster Poets. The group gathered weekly to discuss poetry and to critique each other's work. Heaney became Muldoon's tutor within the university and encouraged Muldoon to publish his work. Heaney eventually included some of Muldoon's poems in a magazine he was guest editing, bringing Muldoon to the attention of the publishing house Faber & Faber, who released New Weather. Prior to New Weather, Muldoon had released only a small pamphlet of poems entitled Knowing My Place (1971). After earning his undergraduate degree in 1973, Muldoon worked for the next thirteen years as a radio and television producer for the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) in Belfast. While working for the BBC, Muldoon continued to write and publish an impressive body of poetry, including Why Brownlee Left, for which he won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1982, and Quoof. Muldoon left the BBC in 1986 to pursue an academic career, starting with fellowships at the universities of Cambridge and East Anglia. After moving to the United States in 1987, he held a series of temporary teaching posts at various American universities before accepting a position as the Howard G. B. Clark Professor of the Humanities and Creative Writing at Princeton University in 1990. Muldoon has received numerous literary awards and honors throughout his career, including the Eric Gregory award for New Weather, a 1990 Guggenheim fellowship, the 1994 T. S. Eliot award for The Annals of Chile, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in 1996, and the 1997 Irish Times Poetry prize for New Selected Poems: 1968-1994 (1996). He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a professor of poetry at Oxford University.

Major Works

Muldoon's poetry is well known for the formal and linguistic complexity of its verse, and for merging details from his life in Northern Ireland and the United States with a wide array of literary forms and references drawn from Irish, Greco-Roman, British, American, and Native-American cultures. New Weather represents Muldoon's desire to break from the Irish poetic tradition, particularly the imposing precedent of William Butler Yeats. The collection reveals Muldoon's preoccupation with points of contradiction and incongruity, while also introducing subjects that became recurring motifs for him—the failure of the quest and the continuous intrigue of the journey. The volume's final poem, “The Year of Sloes, for Ishi,” draws upon Native-American culture and creates parallels to events in Irish history. In Mules, which includes the poems “Lunch with Pancho Villa” and “Mixed Marriage,” Muldoon examines the conflicted allegiances that shape his world view, using hybridized images that juxtapose various dichotomies, both real and fantastic, to convey his understanding of the political and personal tensions that surrounded him in Northern Ireland. Why Brownlee Left employs a quest motif to explore the concept of difference at a deeper and more complex level. With this volume, Muldoon established a structural pattern that he repeated in subsequent books, involving a series of short poems—ballads, sonnets, and short lyrics—preceding a longer narrative poem. The centerpiece of Why Brownlee Left is “Immram”—Gaelic for “wandering”—whose title derives from the ancient Irish poem “Immram Mul Duine.” The poem splices together elements drawn from the Irish vision-quest genre, detective fiction, film noir, and comedy to create a lyrical narrative that addresses issues of identity, the meaning of “home,” and the impossibility of directing or controlling one's life. The poems of Quoof are marked by frenetic wordplay and increased stanzaic experimentation, as well as a more sophisticated treatment of recurring topics such as family, language, the quest, love, death, and Ireland. Quoof, whose title refers to the Muldoon family's private word for a hot water bottle, ends with one of his best known poems, “The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants.” Returning to Native-American literature for the poem's central analogy, Muldoon utilizes a cycle of trickster myths from the Winnebago Indians, delving into issues of identity and questioning the validity of knowledge about oneself, others, and events—particularly with respect to the violence and civil strife in Northern Ireland.

As editor of The Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Poetry (1986), Muldoon set out to identify and catalog the most significant Irish poets since Yeats. Rather than write a traditional editorial introduction for the collection, Muldoon instead published a lengthy transcript of a 1939 debate between Irish poets F. R. Higgins and Louis MacNeice regarding the state of Irish poetry, which served to reflect many of Muldoon's own views on the subject. Meeting the British, Muldoon's last volume of poetry written before moving to the United States, returns to the theme of wandering, using shorter lyrical lines to suggest movement and change. The volume's long poem, “7, Middagh Street,” refers to the Brooklyn, New York, residence where English poet W. H. Auden settled following his relocation to the United States in the 1940s. Muldoon's long and complex epic narrative, Madoc—subtitled “A Mystery”—combines two storylines into one narrative. The first plotline is a retelling of the story of the twelfth-century Welsh prince, Madoc. According to legend, Madoc sailed west, discovered America, and settled among a Native-American tribe of Mandan Indians. The second plotline is an imaginative rendering of a never-realized scheme—conceived by nineteenth-century British Romantic poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey—to sail to America and establish a utopian pantisocracy on the banks of Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River. Each of the volume's poems is parenthetically titled with the name of an ancient philosopher or intellectual. The two storylines converge in a narrative presented by a descendent of Southey, named “South,” who retrieves the story from the back of his own eye using a device called a retinograph.

In contrast to Madoc, the poems that comprise The Annals of Chile are more personal, lyrical, and emotionally charged, allowing Muldoon to explore ideas of loss—both personal and cultural. These themes are addressed in poems such as the elegiac “Incantata”—written for Mary Farl Powers, an artist and Muldoon's former lover—and in the collection's long poem, “Yarrow,” focusing on 1963, a year marked by the passing of Robert Frost, Louis MacNeice, and Sylvia Plath. These poems revolve around Muldoon's relationships to those who died before him juxtaposed against incidents from his daily routines and current milestones—events which shaped his consciousness and informed his art. Hay (1998) is a diverse assemblage of poems whose various forms, styles, and subjects reflect Muldoon's continuing effort to present a more personal and accessible side in his work. Poems such as “The Mud Room” and “The Bangle (Slight Return),” revisit themes of identity, literature, and the potential for discovery facilitated by rhyme and poetic form. Muldoon has also published a series of shorter volumes, including The Prince of the Quotidian (1994), a diary-like account of the poet's daily activities in Princeton, New Jersey, and Kerry Slides (1996), which centers around Muldoon's return visits to Ireland. In addition to his poetry collections, Muldoon has produced several librettos, most notably Shining Brow (1993), which is an operatic biography of architect Frank Lloyd Wright written in collaboration with composer Daron Hagen. Muldoon has also served as the editor of The Essential Byron (1989) and The Faber Book of Beasts (1997), and has published a collection of his lectures on Irish literature in To Ireland, I (2000).

Critical Reception

From the publication of his earliest poems Muldoon has been widely lauded for his sophisticated verbal techniques and his experimentation with poetic form. New Weather has received considerable critical acclaim and has been praised for introducing Muldoon's singular poetic voice. Despite his strong preoccupation with Irish culture and tradition, reviewers have often noted the absence of both explicit references to Northern Irish politics and expressions of Muldoon's own political beliefs in his poetry. Commentators have acknowledged the linguistic complexity of Muldoon's poetry, drawing attention to its inventive wordplay, use of neologisms, innovative stanzaic treatment, and comic elements. Many critics have also lauded Muldoon's postmodern mode of splicing together themes and techniques borrowed from other genres and media. However, some reviewers have argued that such poems are oblique and obscure, noting that several of Muldoon's works appear to be deliberately inaccessible, hermetic, and artificial. Madoc, in particular, has been criticized for employing a highly stylized structure and failing to examine emotional, core issues. Other critics have disagreed with this assessment of Muldoon's poetry, citing such poems as “Incantata” and “Yarrow” in The Annals of Chile as examples of Muldoon's most passionate and personal works. In general, most critics have agreed that Muldoon is a highly original poet whose writing offers insight into challenging questions surrounding the nature of poetry, cultural history, national allegiance, and self-identity.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Knowing My Place (poetry) 1971

New Weather (poetry) 1973

Spirit of Dawn (poetry) 1975

Mules (poetry) 1977

Names and Addresses (poetry) 1978

The Scrake of Dawn: Poems by Young People from Northern Ireland [editor] (poetry) 1979

Immram [illustrated by Robert Ballagh] (poetry) 1980

The O-Os' Party: New Year's Eve (juvenilia) 1980

Why Brownlee Left (poetry) 1980

Out of Siberia (poetry) 1982

Quoof (poetry) 1983

The Wishbone (poetry) 1984


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John Lucas (review date 21 August 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lucas, John. “Escape Artist.” New Statesman 114, no. 2943 (21 August 1987): 23-4.

[In the following excerpt, Lucas compliments Muldoon's poetic techinques in Meeting the British, calling the collection “the best of his five full volumes of poetry.”]

Like its predecessors, Paul Muldoon's new volume, Meeting the British, is full of poems whose real subject seems to be how to write a poem. I don't at all mean that Muldoon apes those old-new American writers whose only subject was poetry (didn't they do any living?); the point is rather that a Muldoon poem invariably has a canny, almost wittily defiant air about it, a manner of implying...

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William A. Wilson (essay date fall 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wilson, William A. “Paul Muldoon and the Poetics of Sexual Difference.” Contemporary Literature 28, no. 3 (fall 1987): 317-31.

[In the following essay, Wilson discusses Muldoon's break from the Yeatsian tradition of Irish poetry, particularly as evidenced in Muldoon's patterns of sexual signification and linguistic dichotomies that reflect the poet's effort to come to terms with his sense of paternal loss and the deconstructed culture of the postmodern world.]

As part of his deconstruction of Irish criticism, Seamus Deane described two dominant styles in Irish history and letters:

One is “Romantic,” a mode of reading...

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Kieran Quinlan (review date winter 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Quinlan, Kieran. Review of Selected Poems: 1968-1986, by Paul Muldoon. World Literature Today 63, no. 1 (winter 1989): 104.

[In the following review, Quinlan offers a positive assessment of Selected Poems: 1968-1986.]

“Kaleidoscopic,” “visionary,” and “charismatic” (the words used on the book jacket [of Selected Poems: 1968-1986] by as sensible an Ulsterman as Seamus Heaney) are all terms frequently applied to Paul Muldoon's work and aptly descriptive of its main thrust—which is to say that the poems by this relatively new voice from Northern Ireland are not always easily accessible, even when they are at their most inspiring. Still,...

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Calvin Bedient (review date 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bedient, Calvin. “The Crabbed Genius of Belfast.” Parnassus 16, no. 1 (1990): 195-216.

[In the following excerpt, Bedient lauds Muldoon's rejection of the traditional motifs of Irish poetry in Meeting the British and Selected Poems: 1968-1986.]


In the recent work of two Belfast poets, Paul Muldoon and Medbh1 McGuckian, a calculated art of disturbance makes a stunning appearance. Born in Belfast at the beginning of the 1950s, both poets are brazenly set on shattering the “human” or conventional aspects of reality. Each is in constant training for shock. The equivalents of petrol bombs are going off in their...

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Paul Jones (review date spring 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Jones, Paul. Review of Madoc: A Mystery, by Paul Muldoon. Southern Humanities Review 27, no. 2 (spring 1993): 198-200.

[In the following positive review, Jones argues that Madoc: A Mystery is “the most ambitious and successful long poem that we've seen in a long time.”]

Paul Muldoon established a name for himself among the poets of Ireland at an early age. New Weather, his first book, was published before his twenty-second birthday. Four books and a Selected Poems later, readers have some idea of what to expect from him. What we have come to expect is surprise and innovation, along with a subtle wit and sharp ear.


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Paul Muldoon and Lynn Keller (interview date 22-23 April 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Muldoon, Paul, and Lynn Keller. “An Interview with Paul Muldoon.” Contemporary Literature 35, no. 1 (spring 1994): 1-29.

[In the following interview, originally conducted between April 22 and 23, 1993, Muldoon discusses the creative origins and artistic aims of Shining Brow and Madoc: A Mystery, his incorporation of historical and literary references in these works, and his views on contemporary poetry and the formal aspects of his own verse.]

Born in 1951, the poet Paul Muldoon was raised in a Catholic household in county Armagh in Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland. His father was a market gardener, his mother a schoolteacher; as the...

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Paul Driver (review date 19 August 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Driver, Paul. “Upstaging.” London Review of Books 15, no. 16 (19 August 1993): 22-3.

[In the following review, Driver discusses the modern tradition of libretto collaborations and offers a favorable assessment of Muldoon's verse in Shining Brow.]

Architects may come and
Architects may go and
Never change your point of view
Paul Simon, ‘So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright’

Although W. H. Auden, who ranks with Hugo von Hofmannsthal among the master librettists of the age, thought that the meaning of a libretto's words were its least important component (at any rate, so far as the audience is concerned), and that a libretto is ‘really a private...

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Michèle Roberts (review date 30 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Roberts, Michèle. “Strong Tease.” New Statesman and Society 7, no. 322 (30 September 1994): 54-5.

[In the following review, Roberts offers a positive assessment of The Annals of Chile, noting Muldoon's “sharp observation.”]

These are poems obsessed with language. The reader stumbles upon them like shining jewels heaped in a cave, an arranged mass of cut and carved parts, a word hoard brought up out of darkness to be exclaimed at and praised, turned and spun in the palm. It's almost impossible to convey a sense of what the poems are like: they are. They are collections of words fastidiously fitted together, with the utmost...

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Lawrence Norfolk (review date 7 October 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Norfolk, Lawrence. “The Abundant Braes of Yarrow.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4775 (7 October 1994): 32-3.

[In the following review, Norfolk compliments The Annals of Chile, drawing attention to the poem “Yarrow” as an example of Muldoon's complex and ambitious verse.]

Paul Muldoon is one of the most inventive and ambitious poets working today. The Annals of Chile is his best book to date.

Such an endorsement, in fact any unequivocal statement, does not affix itself easily to Muldoon, any more than straightforward criticism has to his poetry. His work is oddly ungraspable and Muldoon himself is difficult to place;...

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Ben Howard (review date November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Howard, Ben. Review of Selected Poems: 1968-1987, by Paul Muldoon. Poetry 165, no. 2 (November 1994): 101-05.

[In the following review, Howard evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Selected Poems: 1968-1987.]

For the Irish poet Paul Muldoon no value is more central to the poet's vocation than that of personal independence. Speaking to Kevin Barry in 1987, Muldoon expressed his belief that “a writer's job is to be an outsider, to belong to no groups, no tribes, no clubs. So far as any of us can, it's to be a free agent, within the state of oneself, or roaming through the different states of oneself” (The Irish Literary Supplement, Fall...

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Katherine McNamara (review date 11 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McNamara, Katherine. “The Riddle of the Expunged Words.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (11 December 1994): 13.

[In the following review, McNamara lauds the symbiotic relationship between Muldoon's two collections The Annals of Chile and The Prince of the Quotidian.]

In 1794, the English poets Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge planned to (but did not) come to America, meaning to set up a Pantisocracy, an equal rule for all, on the banks of the Susquehanna River. Paul Muldoon, an Irish poet who teaches at Princeton, nearly 200 years afterward, imagined what it would have been like if they had come West, and wrote a funny, tragic history of...

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Mark Ford (review date 12 January 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ford, Mark. “Little Do We Know.” London Review of Books 17, no. 1 (12 January 1995): 19.

[In the following positive review, Ford asserts that The Annals of Chile is “Muldoon's most open and lyrical collection yet.”]

‘What are we going to write about now?’ one of Ulster's more engagé poets half-jokingly inquired soon after the IRA's ceasefire was announced. One would imagine that Paul Muldoon will be among the Northern Irish poets least directly affected by whatever happens—or doesn't—in the Province. His poetry has always reflected political events in the most delicate of styles, avoiding overt judgments, sentimental ideals,...

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Thomas McCarthy (review date winter 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McCarthy, Thomas. Review of The Prince of the Quotidian, by Paul Muldoon. Eire-Ireland 30, no. 4 (winter 1996): 188-90.

[In the following review, McCarthy discusses Muldoon's decision to write a new poem for every day in 1992 and praises the subsequent collection of the works in The Prince of the Quotidian.]

In the New Year of 1992 Paul Muldoon decided to write a poem every day. He was newly arrived at Princeton where he had become director of the Creative Writing Program. The result is this forty-two page poetry journal [The Prince of the Quotidian]. If the project sounds Louis MacNiece-like, that is no coincidence. Muldoon, more than any other...

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Kieran Quinlan (review date winter 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Quinlan, Kieran. Review of The Prince of the Quotidian, by Paul Muldoon. World Literature Today 70, no. 1 (winter 1996): 190-91.

[In the following review, Quinlan argues that The Prince of the Quotidian will likely satisfy only admirers of Muldoon's previous works and those fond of postmodern verse.]

One can look at Paul Muldoon's short collection The Prince of the Quotidian (twelve of the forty-eight pages in the book are blank; text in the ones not blank rarely occupies more than half of its allotted space) in at least three ways. For the Muldoon aficionado, it will give further evidence of his ample talent, his postmodern responsiveness...

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Paul Muldoon, Earl G. Ingersoll, and Stan Sanvel Rubin (interview date 4 April 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Muldoon, Paul, Earl G. Ingersoll, and Stan Sanvel Rubin. “The Invention of the I: A Conversation with Paul Muldoon.” Michigan Quarterly Review 37, no. 1 (winter 1998): 63-73.

[In the following interview, originally conducted on April 4, 1996, Muldoon comments on his national identity and influences, his approach to writing, and the composition of “The Briefcase,” “Madoc,” and “Yarrow.”]

The following conversation took place April 4, 1996, during the poet's visit to the State University of New York, College at Brockport, where he was a guest of the Brockport Writers Forum and Videotape Library. Speaking with him were Stan Sanvel Rubin, the...

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Tim Kendall (essay date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kendall, Tim. “Fathers and Mothers: On Paul Muldoon's Life.” In Paul Muldoon, pp. 9-24. Chester Springs, PA: Dufour Editions, 1996.

[In the following essay, Kendall provides an overview of Muldoon's family background, education, publishing career, and critical reception, drawing attention to the formative experiences and personal relationships that shaped the development of his poetry.]

Paul Muldoon was born on 20 June 1951, in Portadown, County Armagh. His parents Patrick and Brigid (née Regan) Muldoon had been living in Dungannon, County Tyrone, and the family moved soon afterwards to the nearby village of Eglish, where two more children, Maureen and...

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F. D. Reeve (review date April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Reeve, F. D. “On Shoemakers and Snails.” Poetry 170, no. 1 (April 1997): 37-51.

[In the following excerpt, Reeve offers a favorable review of The Prince of the Quotidian and The Annals of Chile.]

Wake Forest University Press and Farrar, Straus and Giroux teamed up to present Paul Muldoon's latest comedy in two parts, both parts now available in paper. Muldoon is a juggler, a handspringing carny, a gandydancer, a stand-up comic, an intellectual muckraker. He bends language as easily as Geller, the psychic, bent spoons. To read the little book, The Prince of the Quotidian—putatively a journal of a scribbler's month in the New Jersey suburbs...

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Stephen Burt (review date 5 May 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Burt, Stephen. “A Delightful Muldoodle.” New Leader 130, no. 8 (5 May 1997): 18-19.

[In the following review, Burt lauds Muldoon's skillful verb usage and accomplished verse in Kerry Slides.]

Something like a consensus now deems Paul Muldoon the best Irish poet younger than Seamus Heaney, and American readers are figuring out—only about a decade late—that he's among the most inventive poets in the English language. Muldoon published his first book of poems in 1972, when he was in his early 20s, and has been expanding his ambitions and sharpening his wit ever since. Among his hallmarks are: sonnets, comic or extravagant approximate rhymes,...

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Helen Vendler (review date 6 November 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Vendler, Helen. “Anglo-Celtic Attitudes.” New York Review of Books 44, no. 17 (6 November 1997): 57-60.

[In the following excerpt, Vendler compliments both Selected Poems: 1968-1986 and The Annals of Chile, though she expresses reservations over Muldoon's tendency toward emotional detachment and cryptic allusions.]

When the United States became a superpower after World War II, Americans became less deferential toward English writers, with the consequence that, on the whole, postwar American readers knew little of the poetry being written in the British Isles and Ireland. Auden maintained a hold on the American audience because he lived here,...

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Eric Korn (review date 21 November 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Korn, Eric. “The Frog's Incog.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4938 (21 November 1997): 16.

[In the following review, Korn asserts that there is “much to praise” in The Faber Book of Beasts, calling the work a “subtle and provoking collection.”]

“In poetry, as in life, animals bring out the best in us,” says Paul Muldoon; though a few mink and a few minke might chitter and dweeble their dissent, and there's a half-reclaimed dancing bear on the Mappin Terraces of London Zoo, who met a few men and did not bring out the best in them, in consequence of which she has little mad outbursts of robotic movement, like an old alcoholic shuffling and...

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Adam Kirsch (review date 30 November 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kirsch, Adam. “The Virtuoso.” New Republic (30 November 1998): 56-60.

[In the following review of Hay, Kirsch contends that Muldoon's inventive verse is too often a facile display of technical and stylistic virtuosity, whereby complexity and difficulty serve to “impress,” rather than “convince,” the reader.]

“Virtuoso” is a loaded compliment, an honorific that conceals a reproach. It implies performance, as distinct from creation: a performer stands before his audience and impresses them, while a creator must enter into his audience and engage them. In music, the two roles are usually separate, and so there is a natural place for the...

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Clair Wills (essay date 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wills, Clair. “Introduction.” In Reading Paul Muldoon, pp. 9-23. Great Britain: Bloodaxe Books, 1998.

[In the following essay, Wills provides an overview of Muldoon's poetic style, his personal and intellectual perspective, and critical approaches to his work.]

What makes a poem by Paul Muldoon a Muldoon poem? Muldoon is at once the most characterful of contemporary poets, and the most elusive. There's a distinctive Muldoonian (or should it be Muldoonesque?) ring to his work which may be easy to spot, and even to imitate, but is perhaps less easy to define. Take the following poem, ‘Twice,’ which appeared in Muldoon's seventh poetry collection, The...

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Thomas M. Disch (review date summer 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Disch, Thomas M. “Job Opportunities in Contemporary Poetry.” Hudson Review 52, no. 2 (summer 1999): 313-22.

[In the following excerpt, Disch offers a negative assessment of Hay.]

I have for a long time been of the opinion that writing poetry, like good manners at dinner, should be a commonplace among any group of cultivated people, and is not a specifically “professional” accomplishment. There will always be those who excel at it, as there are those who are handsomer or dance with more panache. But the often aggrieved expectation that the creation of a body of poems entitles one to a stipend sufficient to subsist on and have free holidays at an...

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Judith Kitchen (review date summer 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kitchen, Judith. “Tensions.” Georgia Review 53, no. 2 (summer 1999): 368-84.

[In the following excerpt, Kitchen praises Muldoon's verse in Hay, though finds the collection inferior to his previous volume, The Annals of Chile.]

It's early morning. I'm sitting in a corner window on the thirty-fifth floor of a hotel in San Francisco. Outside, nothing but fog, saving me from my own strong fear of heights. Where yesterday I could look out on city streets, moving lights, water in the distance, today there is nothing. No little cat feet, but a dense gray wall of impenetrability. Though if I should go down in the elevator and walk out the door, I could...

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Sven Birkerts (essay date spring 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Birkerts, Sven. “About Paul Muldoon.” Ploughshares 26, no. 1 (spring 2000): 202-08.

[In the following essay, Birkerts offers an admiring commentary on Muldoon's challenging and idiosyncratic poetic style.]

I first heard of Paul Muldoon through the affectionate enthusing of Seamus Heaney, who donned his conspiratorial mien—as if agents of some imagined opposition might be lurking near—and confided that his somewhat younger compatriot was “the real thing.” I sought the work out, though I'll confess I was some time coming to it. This would have been in the mid-1980's, the time of Quoof and earlier collections. Accustomed to the solid...

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David Wheatley (review date 18 May 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wheatley, David. “In the Gasworks.” London Review of Books 22, no. 10 (18 May 2000): 30-1.

[In the following review, Wheatley lauds To Ireland, I, Bandanna, and Muldoon's translation of Aristophanes's The Birds.]

Marcel Aymé's novel Le Passemuraille, about a man who can walk through walls, would have interested Thomas Caulfield Irwin (1823-92). Irwin is cited in Paul Muldoon's To Ireland, I for a neighbourly dispute he was having with one John O'Donovan. ‘He says I am his enemy,’ Irwin wrote, ‘and watch him through the thickness of the wall which divides our houses. One of us must leave. I have a houseful of books; he has an...

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Clair Wills (review date 2 June 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wills, Clair. “Let Eriny Remember.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5070 (2 June 2000): 6.

[In the following review of To Ireland, I, Wills commends Muldoon's idiosyncratic insight into Irish literary and cultural history, but finds shortcomings in his tendency toward overly esoteric and whimsical interpretations.]

Some poets who turn their hand to criticism adopt a sober academic guise, as if to atone for their verbal transgressions. Paul Muldoon is not one of them. In his most recent lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry, Muldoon entertained his audience with a string of far-fetched contentions. Did you know, for example, that Robert Frost's poem...

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Susan Wheeler (essay date 7 May 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wheeler, Susan. “Irish Weather over New Jersey.” Publishers Weekly 248, no. 19 (7 May 2001): 216.

[In the following essay, Wheeler presents an overview of Muldoon's poetry, literary career, and personal history, along with Muldoon's own comments on these subjects.]

Volumes of the complete edition of the OED, still in their worn blue dust jackets, spill off a low-slung table in the center of poet Paul Muldoon's office at Princeton University; behind a ring of chairs, the familiar brown spines of the Encyclopaedia Britannica crowd two shelves. Encyclopedias of words and worlds are in his blood, as the “boy from Moy”—the young Muldoon,...

(The entire section is 2119 words.)

Adam Newey (review date 11 June 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Newey, Adam. “Walking on Air.” New Statesman 130, no. 4541 (11 June 2001): 70-1.

[In the following review of Poems 1968-1998, Newey contends that Muldoon's “ludic” poetry often lacks “any substantial core” and risks falling into self-parody.]

I worry about Paul Muldoon. I mean, on the one hand, here is a poet of extravagant gifts, a true original who delights in weaving lexical patterns of great wit and complexity; on the other, we have someone who thinks it enough to construct a poem (albeit a brief one) around an agonisingly laboured pun on “Armagh” and “Armani.”

In one sense, that coupling gives the trajectory of...

(The entire section is 744 words.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 17 June 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Moy Sand and Gravel, by Paul Muldoon. Publishers Weekly 249 no. 24 (17 June 2002): 57.

[In the following review, the critic commends Muldoon's “suburban observation and whimsical memory” in Moy Sand and Gravel.]

[Moy Sand and Gravel, t]his first full volume since Muldoon's monumental Poems 1968-1998 reveals one of the English-speaking world's most acclaimed poets still at the top of his slippery, virtuosic game. Born in Northern Ireland, for more than a decade Muldoon has lived, taught and raised a family in Princeton, N.J. Hay (1998) showed Muldoon incorporating his wife's Jewish-American heritage, and his life as a...

(The entire section is 319 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Batten, Guinn. “‘He Could Barely Tell One from the Other’: The Borderline Disorders of Paul Muldoon's Poetry.” South Atlantic Quarterly 95, no. 1 (winter 1996): 171-204.

Batten examines Muldoon's ambiguous linguistic and metaphorical evocation of parental authority and sexuality, psychic loss, and the mournful search for allusive family and cultural origins in The Annals of Chile.

Birkerts, Sven. “The State of Poetry.” Partisan Review 55, no. 3 (summer 1988): 484-89.

Birkerts praises the development of Muldoon's poetry in Selected Poems: 1968-1986.

Coffey, Michael. “Don't...

(The entire section is 473 words.)