Paul Muldoon Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Unlike many other contemporary Irish poets, Paul Muldoon is, generally speaking, content to let his verse speak for him. Hence his production of articles and reviews is small and not very helpful in coming to terms with his poetry. His most notable contribution to Irish literary culture has been his idiosyncratic, and in some quarters controversial, editing of The Faber Book of Contemporary Irish Verse (1986). Muldoon has also published translations of a small number of poems by the important contemporary Irish-language poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. The distinctive character of Muldoon’s own verse invites the conclusion that translating is much closer to his imaginative inclinations than editing. He has also edited The Scrake of Dawn: Poems by Young People from Northern Ireland (1979), The Essential Byron (1989), and Contemporary Irish Poetry (2006). His lectures of poetry have been collected in To Ireland, I (2000) and The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures (2009).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Although Paul Muldoon regularly publishes book-length collections and has become an increasingly familiar presence internationally, particularly in the United States, he remains somewhat overshadowed by older, more celebrated poets from Northern Ireland. Muldoon’s fluency and inventiveness have been constants since the publication of his precocious volume New Weather in 1973. As a result, it has been easier to take pleasure in his method than to chart the development of his aesthetic and thematic concerns. It is possible that the poet himself has experienced some of this sense of occlusion and that this has accounted, at least in part, for his increasing tendency to write unfashionably long poems. The publication of the book-length poem Madoc in 1990—a work that in many senses is a typically quirky yet not wholly unexpected product of the longer poems in Why Brownlee Left, Quoof, and Meeting the British—provides a pretext for an interim report on the attainments, challenges, and difficulties of the most original Irish poet to emerge since the 1930’s.

While the critical jury may still be out as to the overall significance of Muldoon’s work, there is no doubt that his poetry signifies an impressive departure from the work of his immediate predecessors among Northern Irish poets (such as Seamus Heaney, John Montague, and Michael Longley) and that Muldoon diverged from the conception of Irish poet as cultural watchdog and keeper of the national conscience, promoted and embodied by the founder of modern Irish poetry, William Butler Yeats.

Certainly the number of awards Muldoon has received suggests a critical acceptance of his work. Some of the accolades he has received include the Eric Gregory Prize (1972), the Sir Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry (both in 1994), the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine (both in 1996), the Irish Times Literature Prize (1997), the Pulitzer Prize and the Griffin Poetry Prize for Moy Sand and Gravel (both in 2003), the American Ireland Fund Literary Award and the Shakespeare Prize (both in 2004), the Aspen Prize for Poetry (2005), the European Prize for Poetry (2006), and the John William Corrington Award for Literary Excellence from Centenary College of Louisiana (2009-2010). He has been elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature and became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2008.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Birkets, Sven. “Paul Muldoon.” In The Electric Life: Essays on Modern Poetry. New York: Morrow, 1989. An assessment of the poet’s relationship to his contemporaries on the international scene. Muldoon’s originality is identified and appreciated. The provision of a wider context for his work reveals its scope and interest. In particular, Muldoon’s distinctive verbal deftness receives attention.

Goodby, John. “’Armageddon, Armagh-geddon’: Language and Crisis in the Poetry of Paul Muldoon.” In Anglo-Irish and Irish Literature: Aspects of Language and Culture, edited by Birgit Bramsback and Martin Croghan. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University Press, 1988. The title comes from Muldoon’s poetic sequence “Armageddon.” In using the name to pun on the poet’s birthplace, the author draws attention to Muldoon’s verbal dexterity. His dismantling and reassembling of language is reviewed. These practices are also related to Muldoon’s background.

_______. Irish Poetry Since 1950: From Stillness into History. New York: Manchester University Press, 2000. Puts Muldoon into the wider context of modern Irish poets. There are three subsections dealing with his development as a poet up until 2000.

Holdridge, Jefferson. The Poetry of Paul Muldoon. Dublin: Liffey Press, 2008. Introduces the general reader to some of the main critical discussion around Muldoon’s work. Looks particularly at his political stances and the links between suffering and creativity.

Kendall, Tim. Paul Muldoon. Bridgend, Wales: Seren, 1996. One of the first full-length studies of Muldoon with individual chapters on all the books up to and including The Annals of Chile. A sensible, intelligent reading of the poems in the context of his entire career.

Kendall, Tim, and Peter McDonald, eds. Paul Muldoon: Critical Essays. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 2003. A collection of essays by many experts on contemporary Irish poetry; it gives a rounded picture of Muldoon’s achievements.

Osborn, Andrew. “Skirmishes on the Border: The Evolution and Function of Paul Muldoon’s Fuzzy Rhyme.” Contemporary Literature 41 (Summer, 2000): 323-358. A study of Muldoon’s rhyme schemes and the semantic and strategic functions in his poetry.

Robinson, Peter. “Muldoon’s Humour.” In Politics and the Rhetoric of Poetry: Perspectives on Modern Anglo-Irish Poetry. Amsterdam: Rodolpi, 1995. The question of how to use humor in serious poems, and otherwise, is examined in the light of Muldoon’s reputation for wit.

Wills, Claire. Reading Paul Muldoon. Newcastle, England: Bloodaxe Books, 1998. Wills’s sensible comments are considerable help in clarifying Muldoon’s more difficult texts.