Tom Paulin Criticism - Essay

Tom Shippey (review date 9-15 November 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1810 words.)

Dudley Young (review date 1 February 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 964 words.)

Simon Carnell (review date 14 February 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 744 words.)

Bernhard O'Donoghue (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6609 words.)

Terence Diggory (review date March 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2590 words.)

Robert Potts (review date 7 May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1071 words.)

Sarah Maguire (review date summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1337 words.)

John Lucas (review date 22 July 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 962 words.)

Lachlan Mackinnon (review date 7 August 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1011 words.)

Michael Hofmann (review date 22 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2128 words.)

Sanford Schwartz (review date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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:...

(The entire section is 1320 words.)

Richard C. Jones (essay date fall 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 8247 words.)

D. J. Taylor (review date 5 June 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 708 words.)

Jon Cook (review date 13 June 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 930 words.)

Paul Foot (review date 11 July 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1011 words.)

Mark Garnett (review date October-December 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1072 words.)

Steven Matthews (review date 25 February 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 725 words.)

Tom Paulin, Colin MacCabe, and Bethan Marshall (interview date spring 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6041 words.)

Shaun Richards (essay date spring 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4709 words.)

Christopher Hamilton (review date summer 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 1264 words.)

Cambridge Quarterly (essay date 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 7458 words.)

Adam Newey (review date 18 March 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 832 words.)

Peter Porter (review date 4 May 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 844 words.)

Frank Kermode (review date 23 May 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2397 words.)

Nicholas Laird (review date 5 July 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1787 words.)