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Poems 1968-1998 Paperback – April 3, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
The best, most-honored Irish poet of the generation after Heaney, "the man who could rhyme knife with fork" (as another poet quipped), Muldoon finds his collected work seeing print a few months before his 50th birthday not bad for a farmer's son from Armagh. Though it includes no new poems, this big brick of a volume does make available several long-out-of-print early books, and it serves better than Muldoon's older selecteds to reveal the full range of his prodigious talents. There is the Frostian, anecdotal Muldoon of early work like "The Big House": "I was only the girl under the stairs/ But I was the first to notice something was wrong." There is the evasive, tough-guy Muldoon who wrote narrative poems, like "The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants," about terror and gangsters in his native Ulster. There is the brilliantly canny and understatedly moving family elegist. There is the Muldoon whose oeuvre includes all shades of romantic and erotic emotion, from sexual disgust ("Aisling") to long-married tenderness ("Long Finish"). There is the writer of serious, terse, effective political verse, the author of 100 haiku about suburban New Jersey, and the Muldoon who recreated the sonnet in his own image. And, most famously, there is the postmodern comic, who claims to be "my own stunt double," and who explains in another recent poem: "A bird in the hand is better than no bread./ To have your cake is to pay Paul." Muldoon (who now teaches at Princeton and Oxford) may yet expand his range even further; for now, the Muldoons are all here, in force and in bulk. Most readers of poetry will need to deal with them. (Apr.) Forecast: The eight or so separate Muldoon volumes on the shelves had the effect of putting off first-time readers, and making a diverse body of work seem diffuse. This collection corrects both problems, and makes Muldoon's first half-century a one-shot buy for libraries and consumers alike. If reviewers take this chance to sum up the career, this book could put Muldoon in Heaney's neighborhood.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Carlos Fuentes claims the English language's luck consists of someone Irish coming along every generation or so and reinventing it. Muldoon--reared in Northern Ireland, long resident at Princeton, recently professor of poetry at Oxford--is today's reinventor. His language is heightened, experimental, and also utterly mundane, even coarse. His subjects match the language, what with trips on mescaline chockablock with bucolic landscapes. The luck of this collection is that it is long and dense enough to show the poet wrestling not only with craft--his intricate and often hidden rhymes show, right from the start, his obsession with form--but also with the reason for poetry in a technological age. In an early poem Muldoon describes meeting with a younger poet "rambling on / About pigs and trees, stars and horses"--this is Muldoon's own younger self come calling, challenging him to move beyond the conventional poetic subjects. The trees and stars never utterly disappear, though, but arrive in movies and French philosophy, pub crawls and Romantic poets, Irish language and Belfast murders, in a great swirl of fresh and durable language, as if they were bedrock revealed by a cataclysm. Patricia Monaghan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Of course we've had great music lyric writers up until the 1960, and a few good song lyrics since then,but no timeless poetry -- and therefore I'm holding onto my Coleridge, Longfellow, Tennyson, Kipling and Robert Service collections. Nothing since has topped them.
These poems are not "easy". Many of them require multiple readings to begin to understand them (although some are quite straightforward, but these are rare). However, Muldoon's use of language, his sense for sounds, his near-obsession with rhyme, and his inventiveness are qualities so far above most other contemporary poets that, well, what can I say? He's the real thing. Today, like Geoffrey Hill, he's very well regarded in the UK, and virtually unknown in the USA. This is tragic. A century from now, the names of Hill and Muldoon will be known, and most US poets will be forgotten - but that's another topic.
If you like difficult but beautiful poetry, pick this up. If you are into pretty easy, conversational verse that you can grasp from a first reading - stay away!
I nevertheless like Pual Muldoon's poetry. I recommend it and it's fun to read, but his book of poems from 1968-1998 could hardly be considered a string of pearls.
What you will and won't get.
His is like snapshot poetry. Don't expect extended metaphor, conceits, or any overall development in the way of imagery or narrative. His is a quick wit and quick eye. Reading his poem is like setting fire to a box of matches. There's no smoldering pathos hear. His fire leaps from matchtip to matchtip, word to word, until the whole of it goes up in an exciting little burst of flames.
His poetry has been compared to Donne, but similarities are thin. For example, Donne was singularly known for the difficulty of his metrical writing. Expect no metrical daring from Muldoon. He doesn't write by numbers. Muldoon's difficulty can be summed up, I think, by this tidy comparison. Reading Muldoon is like listening to someone else's phone conversation. You will only ever hear half the conversation.
The earlier books in this collected poems are the most accessible and, in certain ways, the more enjoyable. You'll find those matchtip lines like: "Once you swallowed a radar-blip/of peyote/you were out of your tree..." This makes for fun reading.
The book "Madoc: A Mystery", however, dating from 1990 indulges in a stellar example of poetic onanism. Clearly, the writing of Madoc brought great pleasure to the author, but I personally doubt this book will mean much to anyone not having a fetish for erudite cleverness. Clearly, the Princetion professor Muldoon is having a long distance conversation with his Oxford counterpart. You will have to wiretap if you really want to get this stuff. For example:
"It transpires that Bucephalus is even now
"of spunk into the rowdy-dow-dow
"of some hoity-toity little skewbald jade."
Get it? If you do, this bud is for you.
The final book "Hay", is the best of them. Even if a portion of the poems strike one as little more than deliciously worded doggerel, the fun of Muldoon's wit evens the whole of it out. "I've upset the pail/in which my daughter had kept/her five-`No, six'-snails." Substitute "reader" for "daughter" and you get the idea.
By the way, did you know he was professor of poetry at Princeton AND Oxford???
All of that being said, it is impossible not to get lost in Muldoon's beautiful language and rhythm. Reading even one verse of a Muldoon poem can keep me going for a whole day. Don't read him if you're afraid of doing a little thinking, but keep in mind that not all of his allusions are meant to be understood. Just enjoy.