Biography of Paul Muldoon
Muldoon was born on a farm outside Moy, County Tyrone, the eldest of three children. The family was Catholic in a largely Protestant area of Northern Ireland. His father worked as a farmer (among other jobs) and his mother was a school-mistress. In 2001, Muldoon said of the Moy; "It's a beautiful part of the world. It's still the place that's 'burned into the retina', and although I haven't been back there since I left for university 30 years ago, it's the place I consider to be my home. We were a fairly non-political household; my parents were nationalists, of course, but it was not something, as I recall, that was a major area of discussion. But there were patrols; an army presence; movements of troops; a sectarian divide. And that particular area was a nationalist enclave, while next door was the parish where the Orange Order was founded; we'd hear the drums on summer evenings. But I think my mother, in particular, may have tried to shelter us from it all. Besides, we didn't really socialise a great deal. We were 'blow-ins' - arrivistes - new to the area, and didn't have a lot of connections."
Talking of his home life, he continues "I'm astonished to think that, apart from some Catholic Truth Society pamphlets, some books on saints, there were, essentially, no books in the house, except one set, the Junior World Encyclopaedia, which I certainly read again and again. People would say, I suppose, that it might account for my interest in a wide range of arcane bits of information. At some level, I was self-educated." He was a '"Troubles poet" from the beginning.
In 1969, Muldoon read English at Queen's University Belfast, where he met Seamus Heaney and became close to the Belfast Group of poets which involved writers such as Michael Longley, Ciarán Carson, Medbh McGuckian and Frank Ormsby. Muldoon said of the experience, "I think it was fairly significant, certainly to me. It was exciting. But then I was 19, 20 years old, and at university, so everything was exciting, really." Muldoon was not a strong student at Queens. He recalls "I had stopped. Really, I should have dropped out. I'd basically lost interest halfway through. Not because there weren't great people teaching me, but I'd stopped going to lectures, and rather than doing the decent thing, I just hung around". During his time at Queens, his first collection New Weather was published by Faber and Faber. He met his first wife, fellow student Anne-Marie Conway, and they were married after their graduation in 1973. Their marriage broke up in 1977.
For thirteen years (1973–86), Muldoon worked as an arts producer for BBC arts in Belfast, (including the most bitter period of the Troubles). During this time he published the collections Why Brownlee Left (1980) and Quoof (1983). After leaving the BBC he taught English and creative writing at Caius College, Cambridge, and the University of East Anglia where he taught such writers as Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and Giles Foden (Last King of Scotland). In 1987, he emigrated to the United States, and teaches in the creative writing program at Princeton. He held the chair of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University for the five-year term 1999–2004, and is an Honorary Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford University.
Muldoon is married to novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz, whom he met at an Arvon writing course. He has two children, Dorothy and Asher, and lives in Griggstown, New Jersey.
Poetry and other works
His poetry is known for his difficult, sly, allusive style, casual use of obscure or archaic words, understated wit, punning, and deft technique in meter and slant rhyme. As Peter Davidson says in the New York Times review of books "Muldoon takes some honest-to-God reading. He's a riddler, enigmatic, distrustful of appearances, generous in allusion, doubtless a dab hand at crossword puzzles". The Guardian cites him as "among the few significant poets of our half-century"; "the most significant English-language poet born since the second world war" - a talent off the map. (Notably, Seamus Heaney was born in 1939). Muldoon's work is often compared with Heaney, a fellow Northern Irish poet, friend and mentor to Muldoon. Heaney, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, is better known, sells widely and has enjoyed more popular success. Muldoon is more of 'the poet's poet', whose work is frequently too involved and opaque for a more casual readership. However, Muldoon's reputation as a serious poet was confirmed in 2003 with his winning of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He has been awarded fellowships in the Royal Society of Literature and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the 1994 T. S. Eliot Prize; the 1997 Irish Times Poetry Prize, and the 2003 Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry. He was also shortlisted for the 2007 Poetry Now Award. Muldoon’s poems have been collected into three books, Selected Poems 1968-1986 (1986), New Selected Poems: 1968-1994 (1996), and Poems 1968-1998 (2001). In September 2007 he was hired as poetry editor of The New Yorker and is president of the British Poetry Society (UK).
Most of Muldoon's collections contain shorter poems with an inclusion of a long concluding poem. As Muldoon produced more collections the long poems gradually took up more space in the volume, until in 1990 the poem Madoc: A Mystery took over the volume of that name, leaving only seven short poems to appear before it. Muldoon has not since published a poem of comparable length, but a new trend is emerging whereby more than one long poem appears in a volume.
Madoc: A Mystery, exploring themes of colonisation, is among Muldoon's most difficult works. It includes, as 'poetry', such non-literary constructions as maps and geometric diagrams. In the book Irish Poetry since 1950, John Goodby states it is "by common consent, the most complex poem in modern Irish literature [...] - a massively ambitious, a historiographical metafiction". The post-modern poem narrates, in 233 sections (the same number as the number of American Indian tribes), an alternative history in which Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey come to America in order to found a utopian community. The two poets had, in reality, discussed but never undertaken this journey. Muldoon's poem is inspired Southey's work Madoc, about a legendary Welsh prince of that name. Critics are divided over the poem's success. Some are stunned by its scope and many others, such as John Banville, have professed themselves utterly baffled by it - feeling it to be wilfully obscure. Muldoon says of it: "I quite enjoy having fun. It's part of how it is, and who we are."
Muldoon has contributed the librettos for four operas by Daron Hagen: Shining Brow (1992), Vera of Las Vegas (1996), Bandanna (1998), and The Antient Concert (2005). His interests have not only included libretto, but the rock lyric as well, penning lines for the band The Handsome Family as well as the late Warren Zevon whose titular track "My Ride's Here" belongs to a Muldoon collaboration. Muldoon also writes lyrics for (and plays "rudimentary rhythm" guitar in) his own Princeton-based rock band, Rackett.
Muldoon has also edited a number of anthologies, written two children's books, translated the work of other authors, and published critical prose.
He will also be partaking in the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty Six where he has written a piece based upon a chapter of the King James Bible.
Muldoon has won the following major poetry awards:
1990: Guggenheim Fellowship
1992: Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for Madoc: A Mystery
1994: T. S. Eliot Prize for The Annals of Chile
1997: Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for Poetry for New Selected Poems 1968–1994
2002: T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) for Moy Sand and Gravel
2003: Griffin Poetry Prize (Canada) for Moy Sand and Gravel
2003: Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Moy Sand and Gravel
2004: American Ireland Fund Literary Award
2004: Aspen Prize for Poetry
2004: Shakespeare Prize
2009: John William Corrington Award for Literary Excellence
Honorary Professor in the School of English at the University of St Andrews (Scotland)
Professor of Poetry at Oxford University 1999–2004 (England)
Honorary Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford University (England)
Fellowship with the Royal Society of Literature (England)
Fellowship with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (U.S.)
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Paul Muldoon Poems
As he knelt by the grave of his mother and father the taste of dill, or tarragon- he could barely tell one from the other-
Milkweed And Monarch
The rain comes flapping through the yard like a tablecloth that she hand-embroidered. My mother has left it on the line. It is sodden with rain.
Comes to mind as another small upheaval amongst the rubble. His eye matches exactly the bubble
The snail moves like a Hovercraft, held up by a Rubber cushion of itself, Sharing its secret
I gave you back my claim on the mining town and the rich vein we once worked, the tumble down from a sluice box that irked
The height of one stall at odds with the next in your grandfather's byre where cattle allowed themselves to speak only at Yule gave but little sense of why you taught us to admire the capacity of a three-legged stool
Seven o'clock. The seventh day of the seventh month of the year. No sooner have I got myself up in lime-green scrubs, a sterile cap and mask,
Beijing I could still hear the musicians cajoling those thousands of clay horses and horsemen through the squeeze when I woke beside Carlotta. Life-size, also. Also terra-cotta. The sky was still a terra-cotta frieze over which her grandfather still held sway with the set square, fretsaw, stencil, plumb line, and carpenter's pencil his grandfather brought from Roma. Proud-fleshed Carlotta. Hypersarcoma. For now our highest ambition was simply to bear the light of the day we had once been planning to seize. Baginbun The Nashville skyline's hem and haw as the freebooters who freeboot through their contractual mire and murk, like Normans stampeding dozens of cows into their Norse-Irish cousins, were balking now at this massive breastwork they themselves had thrown up. The pile of toot on a mirror. The hip-hirple of a white horse against purple. Age-old traductions I could trace from freebasers pretending they freebase to this inescapable flaw hidden by Carlotta's close-knit wet suit like a heart-wound by a hauberk. Bannockburn Though he was mounted on a cob rather than a warhorse, the Bruce still managed to sidestep a spear from Henry de Bohun and tax de Bohun's poll with his broad-based poleax and leave de Bohun's charger somewhat leer. Her grandfather had yet to find a use for the two-timing partisan his grandfather brought man-to-man against all those Ferdinandies until he saw it might come in handy for whacking the thingammybobs off pine and fir, off pine and fir and spruce and all such trees as volunteer. Berwick-Upon-Tweed Off the elm, the ancient pollard that a Flemish painter might love, that comes to shun the attention of its headstrong days, so is proof against the storm that takes its neighbor's roof. Her nonno collects his pension knowing that when push really came to shove he had it within him to wrap his legs in puttees and backslap those pack mules down that moonlit deck, Carlotta now wearing a halter-neck under the long-sleeved, high-collared wet suit whereof . . . whereof . . . whereof . . . whereof I needs must again make mention. Blaye Her wet suit like a coat of mail worn by a French knight from the time a knight could still cause a ruction by direct-charging his rouncy, when an Englishman's home was his bouncy castle, when abduction and seduction went hand in glove. Now Carlotta would climb from the hotel pool in Nashville, take off her mask, and set a spill to a Gauloise as one might set a spill to the fuse of a falconet and the walls of her chest assail. The French, meanwhile, were still struggling to prime their weapons of mass destruction. Bosworth Field It was clear now, through the pell-mell of bombard- and basilisk-mist, that the Stanleys had done the dirt on him and taken Henry's side. Now Richard's very blood seemed to have shied away from him, seemed to sputter and spurt like a falcon sheering off from his wrist as he tried to distance himself from the same falchioneer who'd pelf the crown from his blood-matted brow and hang it in a tree. Less clear was how he'd managed not to crack the shell of the pigeon egg the size of a cyst he'd held so close inside his shirt Blackwater Fort As I had held Carlotta close that night we watched some Xenophon embedded with the 5th Marines in the old Sunni Triangle make a half-assed attempt to untangle the ghastly from the price of gasoline. There was a distant fanfaron in the Nashville sky, where the wind had now drawn itself up and pinned on her breast a Texaco star. 'Why,' Carlotta wondered, 'the House of Tar? Might it have to do with the gross imports of crude oil Bush will come clean on only when the Tigris comes clean?' Benburb Those impromptu chevaux-de-frise into which they galloped full tilt and impaled themselves have all but thrown off their balance the banner- bearing Scots determined to put manners on the beech mast- and cress- and hazelnut- eating Irish. However jerry-built, those chevaux-de-frise have embogged the horses whose manes they had hogged so lovingly and decked with knots of heather, horses rooted to the spots on which they go down on their knees as they unwind their shoulder plaids and kilts, the checkered careers of their guts. Boyne The blood slick from the horse slaughter I could no longer disregard as Carlotta surfaced like barm. My putting her through her paces as she kicked and kicked against the traces like a pack mule kicking from a yardarm before it fell, heehaw, in the dockyard. A banner's frittering tassel or deflating bouncy castle was something to which she paid heed whereas that vision of a milk-white steed drinking from a tub of water and breathing hard, breathing a little hard, had barely set off an alarm. Blenheim Small birds were sounding the alert as I followed her unladen steed through a dell so dark and dank she might have sported the waders her grandfather had worn at the nadir of his career, scouring the Outer Banks for mummichog and menhaden. Those weeks and months in the doldrums coming back as he ran his thumb along an old venetian blind in the hope that something might come to mind, that he might yet animadvert the maiden name of that Iron Maiden on which he was drawing a blank. Bunker Hill Carlotta took me in her arms as a campfire gathers a branch to itself, her mouth a cauter set to my bleeding bough, heehaw. Her grandfather sterilizing his saw in a tub of 100-proof firewater, a helper standing by to stanch the bleeding in some afterlife. No looking daggers at the knife. She'd meet the breast-high parapet with the nonchalance, the no fucking sweat of a slightly skanky schoolmarm though the surgeon was preparing to ganch her like What's-his-face's Daughter. Brandywine I crouched in my own Little Ease by the pool at the Vanderbilt where Carlotta crouched, sputter-sput, just as she had in the scanner when the nurse, keen-sighted as a lanner, picked out a tumor like a rabbit scut on dark ground. It was as if a fine silt, white sand or silicate, had clogged her snorkel, her goggles had fogged, and Carlotta surfaced like flot to be skimmed off some great cast-iron pot as garble is skimmed off, or lees painstakingly drained by turnings and tilts from a man-size barrel or butt. Badli-Ke-Serai Pork barrels. Pork butts. The wide-screen surround sound of a massed attack upon the thin red cellulose by those dust- or fust- or must-cells that cause the tears to well and well and well. At which I see him turning up his nose as if he'd bitten on a powder-pack like yet another sad Sepoy who won't fall for the British ploy of greasing with ham the hammer or smoothing over Carlotta's grammar: 'On which . . . On which Bush will come clean.' Her grandfather a man who sees no lack of manhood in the lachrymose. Bull Run While some think there's nothing more rank than the pool that's long stood aloof from the freshet, I loved the smell of sweat and blood and, sí, horse dung Carlotta shouldered like an Aqua-Lung as she led me now through that dewy dell and spread her House of Tartan waterproof. As we lay there I could have sworn, as I stared through unruffled thorns that were an almost perfect fit to each side of the gravel pit where she and I'd tried to outflank each other, I traced the mark of a hoof (or horseshoe) in her fontanelle. Bronkhorstspruit I traced the age-old traduction of a stream through a thorn thicket as a gush from a farthingale. Skeffington's Daughter. Skeffington. Attention. Shun. Attention. Shun. Shun. Shun. We lay in a siding between two rails and watched an old white horse cross the picket of himself and trek through the scrub to drink from an iron-hooped tub with the snore-snort of a tuba. His winkers and bellyband said scuba, while his sudden loss of suction Carlotta knew meant a pump whose clicket's failed in the way a clicket fails. Basra 'The way to relieve the tension on the line to a windjammer is to lubricate the bollard so it's always a little slack . . .' Her nonno giving us the inside track on how the mule drivers whooped and hollered on the dock. No respite from his yammer on boundlessness being a bind and the most insidious kind of censorship self-censorship while he took Carlotta for a quick whip through conjugation, declension, and those other 'crannies of the crammer' in which she'd been 'quite unscholared.' Bazentin As I was bringing up her rear a young dragoon would cock a snook at the gunners raking the knob of High Wood. Tongue like a scaldy in a nest. Hadn't a Garibaldi what might lie behind that low-level throb like a niggle in her appointment book. Dust? Fust? Must? The dragoon nonplussed by his charger taking the rust and, despite her recalcitrance, Carlotta making a modest advance when the thought of a falchioneer falling to with his two-faced reaping hook now brought back her grandfather's job. Beersheba Now summoned also the young Turk who had suddenly arisen from that great pile of toot, heehaw, as from one of Beersheba's wells. Like the sail that all of a sudden swells on the yawl that all of a sudden yaws, a wind finding meaning in a mizzen and toppling a bouncy castle. Her grandfather fain to wrastle each pack mule to a rubber mat whereat . . . whereat . . . whereat . . . whereat . . . whereat . . . he would eftsoons get down to work, reaching into its wide-open wizen while a helper clamped back its jaws. Burma Her grandfather's job was to cut the vocal cords of each pack mule with a single, swift excision, a helper standing by to wrench the mule's head fiercely to one side and drench it with hooch he'd kept since Prohibition. 'Why,' Carlotta wondered, 'that fearsome tool? Was it for fear the mules might bray and give their position away?' At which I see him thumb the shade as if he were once more testing a blade and hear the two-fold snapping shut of his four-fold, brass-edged carpenter's rule: 'And give away their position.'
The Grand Conversation
She. My people came from Korelitz where they grew yellow cucumbers and studied the Talmud. He. Mine pored over the mud of mangold- and potato-pits or flicked through kale plants from Comber as bibliomancers of old went a-flicking through deckle-mold. She. Mine would lie low in the shtetl when they heard the distant thunder stolen by the Cossacks. He. It was potato sacks lumped together on a settle mine found themselves lying under, the Peep O'Day Boys from Loughgall making Defenders of us all. She. Mine once controlled the sugar trade from the islets of Langerhans and were granted the deed to Charlottesville. He. Indeed? My people called a spade a spade and were admitted to the hanse of pike- and pickax-men, shovels leaning to their lean-to hovels. She. Mine were trained to make a suture after the bomb and the bombast have done their very worst. He. Between fearsad and verst we may yet construct our future as we've reconstructed our past and cry out, my love, each to each from his or her own quicken-queach. She. Each from his stand of mountain ash will cry out over valley farms spotlit with pear blossom. He. There some young Absalom picks his way through cache after cache of ammunition and small arms hidden in grain wells, while his nag tugs at a rein caught on a snag
Small wonder he's not been sighted all winter; this old brock's been to Normandy and back through the tunnels and trenches of his subconscious. His father fell victim to mustard-gas at the Somme; one of his sons lost a paw to a gin-trap at Lisbellaw: another drills on the Antrim hills' still-molten lava in a moth-eaten Balaclava. An elaborate system of foxholes and duckboards leads to the terminal moraine of an ex-linen baron's croquet-lawn where he's part-time groundsman. I would find it somewhat infra dig to dismiss him simply as a pig or heed Gerald of Wales' tall tales of badgers keeping badger-slaves. For when he shuffles across the esker I glimpse my grandfather's whiskers stained with tobacco-pollen. When he piddles against a bullaun I know he carries bovine TB but what I see is my father in his Sunday suit's bespoke lime and lignite, patrolling his now-diminished estate and taking stock of this and that.
As naught gives way to aught and oxhide gives way to chain mail and byrnie gives way to battle-ax and Cavalier gives way to Roundhead and Cromwell Road gives way to the Connaught and I Am Curious (Yellow) gives way to I Am Curious (Blue) and barrelhouse gives way to Frank'N'Stein and a pint of Shelley plain to a pint of India Pale Ale I give way to you. As bass gives way to baritone and hammock gives way to hummock and Hoboken gives way to Hackensack and bread gives way to reed bed and bald eagle gives way to Theobald Wolfe Tone and the Undertones give way to Siouxsie Sioux and DeLorean, John, gives way to Deloria, Vine, and Pierced Nose to Big Stomach I give way to you. As vent gives way to Ventry and the King of the World gives way to Finn MacCool and phone gives way to fax and send gives way to sned and Dagenham gives way to Coventry and Covenanter gives way to caribou and the caribou gives way to the carbine and Boulud's cackamamie to the cock-a-leekie of Boole I give way to you. As transhumance gives way to trance and shaman gives way to Santa and butcher's string gives way to vacuum pack and the ineffable gives way to the unsaid and pyx gives way to monstrance and treasure aisle gives way to need-blind pew and Calvin gives way to Calvin Klein and Town and Country Mice to Hanta I give way to you. As Hopi gives way to Navaho and rug gives way to rag and Pax Vobiscum gives way to Tampax and Tampa gives way to the water bed and The Water Babies gives way to Worstward Ho and crapper gives way to loo and spruce gives way to pine and the carpet of pine needles to the carpetbag I give way to you. As gombeen-man gives way to not-for-profit and soft soap gives way to Lynn C. Doyle and tick gives way to tack and Balaam's Ass gives way to Mister Ed and Songs of Innocence gives way to The Prophet and single-prop Bar-B-Q gives way to twin-screw and the Salt Lick gives way to the County Line and "Mending Wall" gives way to "Build Soil" I give way to you. As your hummus gives way to your foul madams and your coy mistress gives way to "The Flea" and flax gives way to W. D. Flackes and the living give way to the dead and John Hume gives way to Gerry Adams and Television gives way to U2 and Lake Constance gives way to the Rhine and the Rhine to the Zuider Zee I give way to you. As dutch treat gives way to french leave and spanish fly gives way to Viagra and slick gives way to slack and the local fuzz give way to the Feds and Machiavelli gives way to make-believe and Howards End gives way to A Room with a View and Wordsworth gives way to "Woodbine Willie" and stereo Nagra to quad Niagara I give way to you. As cathedral gives way to cavern and cookie cutter gives way to cookie and the rookies give way to the All-Blacks and the shad give way to the smoke shed and the roughshod give way to the Black Horse avern that still rings true despite that T being missing from its sign where a little nook gives way to a little nookie when I give way to you. That Nanook of the North should give way to Man of Aran as ling gives way to cod and cod gives way to kayak and Camp Moosilauke gives way to Club Med and catamite gives way to catamaran and catamaran to aluminum canoe is symptomatic of a more general decline whereby a cloud succumbs to a clod and I give way to you. For as Monet gives way to Juan Gris and Juan Gris gives way to Joan Miró and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gives way to Miramax and the Volta gives way to Travolta, swinging the red-hot lead, and Saturday Night Fever gives way to Grease and the Greeks give way to you know who and the Roman IX gives way to the Arabic 9 and nine gives way, as ever, to zero I give way to you.
When the Master was calling the roll At the primary school in Collegelands, You were meant to call back Anseo And raise your hand As your name occurred. Anseo, meaning here, here and now, All present and correct, Was the first word of Irish I spoke. The last name on the ledger Belonged to Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward And was followed, as often as not, By silence, knowing looks, A nod and a wink, the Master's droll 'And where's our little Ward-of-court?' I remember the first time he came back The Master had sent him out Along the hedges To weigh up for himself and cut A stick with which he would be beaten. After a while, nothing was spoken; He would arrive as a matter of course With an ash-plant, a salley-rod. Or, finally, the hazel-wand He had whittled down to a whip-lash, Its twist of red and yellow lacquers Sanded and polished, And altogether so delicately wrought That he had engraved his initials on it. I last met Joseph Mary Plunkett Ward In a pub just over the Irish border. He was living in the open, In a secret camp On the other side of the mountain. He was fighting for Ireland, Making things happen. And he told me, Joe Ward, Of how he had risen through the ranks To Quartermaster, Commandant: How every morning at parade His volunteers would call back Anseo And raise their hands As their names occurred.
Even as we speak, there's a smoker's cough from behind the whitethorn hedge: we stop dead in our tracks; a distant tingle of water into a trough.
They're kindly here, to let us linger so late, Long after the shutters are up. A waiter glides from the kitchen with a plate Of stew, or some thick soup,
As he knelt by the grave of his mother and father
the taste of dill, or tarragon-
he could barely tell one from the other-
filled his mouth. It seemed as if he might smother.
Why should he be stricken
with grief, not for his mother and father,
but a woman slinking from the fur of a sea-otter