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Maggot: Poems Hardcover – August 31, 2010
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Northern Irish poet and New Yorker poetry editor Muldoon’s work is accomplished and deeply witty, but rarely personal or moving. His is a poetry of subterfuge, the self hidden under wild and wily rhymes and puns, distracting the reader with tossed-off tidbits of learning, burning past empathy in a rush of dissonant language. But mortality has a way of deepening beyond the poetic surface. Not surprisingly, Muldoon keeps up his punning ways: the title (also the name of a multipart poem) refers not only to the obvious flesh-devouring insects but also to a whimsical thought. But the book is filled with haunting images of decay and doom, from hares grazing dangerously on a runway to a geisha’s body found on a Japanese mountain. A friend with cancer becomes “sufficient, after your radiotherapy, / to trigger a dirty bomb alert,” but the light tone flies away as the poet feels “Another heart-pang / neither badger nor hedgehog grease may assuage.” Muldoon has recently said that he could give up poetry, but this book suggests it isn’t giving up on him. --Patricia Monaghan
“Paul Muldoon is a shape-shifting Proteus to readers who try to pin him down . . . Those who interrogate Muldoon's poems find themselves changing shapes each time he does.” ―Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review
“[Maggot] is filled with haunting images of decay and doom, from hares grazing dangerously on a runway to a geisha's body found on a Japanese mountain … Muldoon has recently said that he could give up poetry, but this book suggests it isn't giving up on him.” ―Patricia Monaghan, Booklist
“Mr. Muldoon revels in the disorder that wriggles beneath and below even the most rigid order … His new work is a teeming infested book from a teeming, infested mind. It bucks what its author calls "this tiresome trend / towards peace and calm.” ―Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“[Maggot] is grim, grave, swashbuckling, and made from the marrow of English: there may be no more adaptable strong style in the language than Muldoon's.” ―Dan Chiasson
“In Maggot … the endlessly inventive Paul Muldoon offers his usual sly puzzle disguised as poems … [Muldoon] treats themes of sex, decay and death with startling, acrobatic wit.” ―Carmela Ciuraru, The Los Angeles Times
“Muldoon has been a major figure in English language poetry for decades. Despite being as established an established poet as the establishment will allow, there is the vivacity in this collection of a poet with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Maggot is a rare marriage between the frantic radical energy of a rebellious youth and the sophistication of a master of the form.” ―Josh Cook, Bookslut
“The most formally ambitious and technically innovative of modern poets, he writes poems like no one else . . . [Maggot's] ingenious poems inform and explicate one another, sharing lines, imagery, even epigraphs . . . When Maggot, with a little pressure, opens up, what surfaces is a sad, acidic masterwork. It's about endings: of relationships, of lives. There's betrayal, sex, and violence (always linked in Muldoon) and the dominant trope of decomposition: cancers, sod farms, wayside shrines, even lepers . . . Maggot is enormously dexterous . . . a fine collection by one of our very finest poets.” ―Nick Laird, New York Review of Books
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Up a Latvian creek
with a gaggle of Greek
in a rampaging Gaul's worthy saga,
you'll find Wilbur and Ed
with the dolphin that sped
past the Penguin of Dread
and the freaks and the geeks going gaga.
It's got death on a quag, it's
got rusk in a bag, it's
got flesh-eating maggots
that feast on our eyes.
Down an Antrim back road
with a frog (not a toad)
in full sap-bilking mode
as he thickens the milk in your bucket,
you'll find Sammy and Chuck;
ever down on their luck,
lacking ducat or buck,
they say, "Morons they are so just f___ it."
It's got spirits that flag, it's
got pork as a gag, it's
got gift-bearing maggots
with stars in their eyes.
On a green, grassy knoll
with a mob of French trolls
as the motorcade rolls
into history that's already written,
you'll find Pliny and Franc;
one confused and one blank,
both with no rope to yank,
they say, "Twice shy upstages once bitten."
It's got porcupine slag, it's
got pus (what a drag!), it's
got cheer-leading maggots
that suck out our I's.
For want of a mayfly
the universe was lost.
I admit some of this is a matter of taste. Lord knows Muldoon has enough admirers. For me, quite a few of the poems try way too hard to be cool and with it (which is the Pew Porker's aesthetics), and the effort clearly shows. "The Watercooler," for example, is about office gossip and drama as might be overheard around the, well, watercooler (are coworkers ever this gossipy?), but I only hear the creakings of the poem's construction. "@" (as in firstname.lastname@example.org) is also quite painful; and "Balls" is embarrassing for everyone involved. But I'm not being fair. Muldoon can certainly rhyme; he can be guileful, funny; and there are bright spots. "The Sod Farm," about a young woman who crashes her car by a sod farm, suffering 3rd degree burns, is sneaky in its economy, and is a successful poem. "Ohrwurm" (German for "earworm," meaning a catchy tune you can't get out of your head. for God's sake, I would've just called the poem "Earworm"!) is a little charmer that reads, in its entirety:
Just as I'm loading up on another low carb pork rind snack
I spot in my wing-fuselage connection a fatigue crack.
It bears out my suspicion this low-level hum's a soundtrack
and everything I've seen so far I've seen so far in flashback.
A hum's not quite an earworm, but the poem kind of is! It's time to say it: the book is entitled "Maggot," and it's suitably morbid. Lots of images of decay, forensic processes, insects, etc. I find "The Humors of Hakone" - which reads like a CSI episode - puerille and fetishistic. Some of the images are disgusting, but it's the 21st century, and we've seen much worse on TV. I think it's just a convenient thing to organize a collection around - the poetry isn't about death or dying or decomposition or decomposing per se. Just the usual sleight-of-hand, with some success. Mr. Muldoon, get serious! But maybe he's too serious, and should only be light. In any case, he should get a grip, and quit the Few Dorkier, before he's nothing but a joke. But on the more positive side, I did enjoy this collection much more than other somber and weighty books of poetry from the past year. I don't think there are great poems here, but at the same time, I don't think there are any real duds. It's entertainment, folks!
Perhaps you teach Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"; if so, get thee to his poem about it
in this book for many fine poems and his "Lines for the Centenary of the Birth of Samuel Beckett":
even after close reading in the classroom, students commonly don't see "What's it all about,
Didi." Here's Muldoon:
"Only now do we see it's outselves who skim
determinedly through the dim
of evenfall . . . "