Paul Muldoon
An Interview with Lance Rutkin

Conducted by Lance Rutkin, April 6, 2016



Rutkin: You were just in Dublin, right?


Muldoon: I was.


Rutkin: How was it?


Muldoon: It was very interesting. It was the centenary of the 1916 Rising, Easter Week, so I was involved in a couple of projects there. One of the interesting things about being a poet is that much of what one writes is commissioned in some ways. It could be as simple as someone asking for a poem for a magazine, and one doesn't have one, so one writes one, or something more formal, along the lines of what I've just done in Dublin. The main thing I did was the text for a piece that was composed for an orchestra and a chorus of about 1200 people, and it was called "One Hundred Years a Nation," music by Sean Davey, presented in Collin's Barracks, which is the old British Army headquarters in Dublin, and presented on Easter Sunday. I'd written a poem called "1916: The Eoghan Rua Variations," which was also read over the course of the week, in the National Concert Hall. I also put together another show, in the National Concert Hall, of Irish writers, poets, novelists, and playwrights. Then I did something in the Dublin Writers' Center for another poem I'd been commissioned to write, which is about Padraig Pearse and the General Post Office in Dublin. A lot of stuff like that.



Rutkin: I watched "One Hundred Years a Nation."



Muldoon: Oh, did you? Yeah, you can get it, I suppose. And?



Rutkin: It was magnificent.



Muldoon: You know what was magnificent about it, actually, above all, was the orchestra. I don't know if you got a sense of the rain and wind, but their music was flying around all over the place. It was very cold. The orchestra really did a fabulous job.



Rutkin: You write lyrics; how different was it from writing for a rock band to writing something of that scale?



Muldoon: Similar kind of thing, really. It's all the same. All these activities, they're not exactly the same, but they're very similar. Something like that is just an extended song. It's a song. It's not the kind of writing I would ordinarily do in a poem. It's much more public. The pitch of it is slightly different. It's for much more immediate consumption, one might almost say. It has to have an immediacy. Even while immediacy is something that's honored, indeed really desired in many ways, in a poem, it's not quite the same. A poem may take a bit longer to get out there, and for all its resonances to be appreciated, but the public song, let's call it, the public poem, the public verse, there's a slightly more workman like aspect to it. It's a job to be done, you know? Inspiration may come into it to some extent, and if one's very lucky, a reasonable extent, but it's not the same kind of activity that, ordinarily, I would engage in, which is having no plans, having no ambition, having no commission, but only to be commissioned by the poem itself, what it wants to do. It's very different in that respect. It's got more to do with craft, it's got more to do with what one might have learned, the few things one might have learned over the years, as a poet, and most of the time, those things don't apply. When I write poems, I've no idea what I'm doing, and to write something like that, you have to have a bit of an idea of what you're doing.



Rutkin: There are a few poems in your latest collection that are sort of commissioned, a lot of reflections on artwork.



Muldoon: Yeah, you know that's right, and I sometimes wonder if I'm wise even to acknowledge the extent to which many of them are commissioned. I mean there is a theory that all poems are commissioned in some sense. Andrew Motion, for example, the former poet Laureate of England, of the U.K., which is a job that involves a lot of commissions, feels that everything, in some sense, is commissioned. You set yourself the job of writing something. I, myself, don't quite go so far as that, because I try to do as little work as possible. I try not to. The reason I write poems at all is because I'm forced to by some urgency beyond myself.


People, I think, feel that commissions tend to produce second-rate work. In some cases, they probably do. Even if one doesn't produce a second-rate poem, there's a kind of vague aura of the kind of suspect, second-rate thing hanging about it. It's something one has to be mindful of, because the truth is that it's easy to fall into that trap of writing stuff that's been asked for all the time and, possibly, publishing stuff that's not quite up to snuff, you know? Hard to know.



Rutkin: Since so many of the commissioned poems from this latest collection are about art—



Muldoon: A number of them are, that's correct.



Rutkin: Or, there's "A Civil War Suite," that's in conversation with a couple of different poems.



Muldoon: It was also commissioned.



Rutkin: How do you approach art when you're going to write a poem about it? Do you approach it differently than you normally would?



Muldoon: Perhaps. Though I'm interested in the visual arts, I tend not to look with an art historian's eye, or an artist's eye, though I am very interested in trying to paint, myself, and when I was a kid I was a sort of painter, and would've liked to have been a painter. I'm nonetheless interested in how things get made, and I look at a painting, and I think, how was that done? I do look at a painting, say, in terms of its composition, in terms of its structure, how it was done. I do look at it with a somewhat academic eye, I suppose, but not to such an extent that I'm going to be changing my job to working in an art museum, you know, I'm not. But, like many people, I've learned, to some extent, to look at art. Art, for many people, is thought to be off-limits. A poet like Philip Larkin, for example, in England, was very much against the idea of, what he called, the "myth kitty," and called, at one point, for no more poems about paintings, and all that stuff. Paintings, let's just take paintings, are as much a feature of the world as trees, or horses, or pantomime. It's all part of the world, and it's all fair game, really. It's all up for grabs.



Rutkin: We're going to shift a bit. You took a semester at sea not long ago. I looked at some of their voyages. Which way did you go? Pacific or Atlantic?



Muldoon: Actually, the one I did was around the world. It was while they were still doing that. It's terribly expensive to run that ship, and costs a lot of money just to fill the tank. At least, it used to, maybe not now, with the price of oil. The one I did was perhaps the last, or one of the last, that actually circumnavigated the the world. We started in Florida, over to Africa, down round over to India, Vietnam, China, Japan, back across the Pacific, putting in at Hawaii, and then back to the West Coast of the U.S. Then we spent about a month driving across the U.S., so we actually went right round the world in the course of two, three months, which was a fabulous experience.



Rutkin: Did you do any sailing in the Caribbean? There's that poem "Catamaran," in which you're sailing on a catamaran.



Muldoon: Now, there is a poem about a catamaran. I wasn't actually on a catamaran, per say, but, maybe it was, actually, maybe it was a twin-hulled item. It was quite a large thing, but maybe it did have twin hulls. I can't remember now. Is that a poem about whale watching? About finding whales by sonar? Yeah, it is. See my problem is that I write a lot of poems, and I wrote another poem about whale watching, which I've never collected, or maybe not even published. That one does mention whale watching, that's right. I, myself, am not a sailor as such, but I love being on the ocean. I'm a drowner; I'm not a swimmer. I can't swim, but I love being at sea. Some of the most wonderful experiences of my life, in the Pacific, for example, on the back of a ship, the stern of the ship, with a couple of albatrosses hanging off the back. It's just beautiful.



Rutkin: I don't know if you'll remember, but there's that line in the poem "the Tamil term we've corrupted, we use "catamaran."" What's the Tamil term?



Muldoon: Oh, I can't remember exactly, but it's something along those terms, you know, it sounds something like that, catamaran, or whatever. In other words, it comes from that language, for two logs tied together.



Rutkin: So why do you call it a "corruption" of a word?



Muldoon: Well, I suppose that's kind of a technical term that would be used by linguists. In other words, it's a kind of half-baked variation of the original. Right? It's just a term that's used by linguists, often, for a phrase that's gone from one language into another. There are many examples of words that have been mistranslated. For example, the phrase "that cuts no ice with me" is actually a phrase from one of the Algonquian languages. Sounds a little bit like that. It's got nothing to do with ice at all, or cutting. That comes from one of the Native American languages.



Rutkin: So it's just because of the linguistic trade that you don't call it an "evolution" of a word?



Muldoon: I suppose one could call it that, but "corruption" is the word that's used by linguists. In other words, it starts as one thing. Another example would be the Jerusalem artichoke, which has nothing to do with Jerusalem, but is a version of girasole, turning with the sun, girasole, like a sunflower. Nothing to do with Jerusalem the city. The technical term for that is a corruption.



Rutkin: A lot of your poems, not just the most recent volume, but a lot of them, have focused on, not focused, but have bits of that in there—playing with the linguistics.



Muldoon: Yeah, there's a bit of that. Probably too much, I think. These days, I sort of think to myself, oh don't do that again, you've done enough of that.



Rutkin: Are you taking a jab at yourself, with that section from "Noah & Sons" for "ewe" read "yew," it goes all the way down, for "Ashur" read "Asher." Is that a little bit of self-deprecation?



Muldoon: To some extent, yeah. I mean it's a reference back, and it's probably a terrible mistake, to a poem called "Errata." The erratum slip is something that used to go into a book, with a series of corrections. There's a poem, I don't know if you know this poem, "Errata."



Rutkin: Is that the women?



Muldoon: No, that's the "Little Black Book," but it's close to it. It's somewhere close to that poem in the time that it was written, and it's close to it in the book in which it appears, Hay, but errata, you know, for something read this, for something read that. It's a kind of play—the original poem is a kind of autobiographical poem, masquerading as an erratum slip. It refers back to that.



Rutkin: On the subject of poems being together in volumes, how do you think about structuring the volumes of your poems?



Muldoon: Well I don't really think much about that at all, actually. Certainly not initially. What I do initially, if I've finished a book, okay so there's a clean slate, there's nothing there. And then there's a poem, if one's lucky. And then, if one's lucky again, there's another poem. So what I start to do, each time I finish a book, is have a new little folder. I have the two poems. I put one there, and the next one follows it, or comes before it. And then I write another poem, and it goes in the little folder, too. At that stage, there are three of them. Which comes first, which comes second, which comes third? Those things matter. They influence the way we read poems. My process, as the poems get written, is to put them into some possible order. There comes a point, then, where, if one's lucky, there's a sense that, because they come from one mindset, one mind and one mindset, that certain trends seem to come to the fore. But I wouldn't even start looking for those until way into the process.



Rutkin: But, when you have your poems, the order we read them does matter?



Muldoon: Oh, it does, absolutely. Yeah. Now, having said that, there's a reason for the order of the poems in all my books, but I've forgotten, mostly, what that is. There seemed to be an argument for it at the time. Actually, there's a chronological component to some of them. Often, these are poems about childhood, and for some reason they happen earlier in the book.



Rutkin: And then, in this collection, there's "Firing Squad." The speaker drives away from "Firing Squad," with the handkerchief in his breast pocket, and then it appears again, both with Father Daly and with Pontius Pilate, with the last poem "Dirty Data."



Muldoon: That's right, yes, well, I'm interested in the visual. I'm quite image driven. I think, partly because, you go back to the paintings, I think really I'm a kind of painter, in a very loose sense, a visual artist. A lot of poets are. The imagists, for example. The poems are driven by what one's looking at. You're looking at one thing, then you're looking at another thing. I'm also very interested in film, and studied film editing, so I think that had a big impact on me, too, in terms of cutting a poem together. Certain images tend to recur, right? With any luck, they come from one's unconscious, one's subconscious.


So Father Daly and his handkerchief, of course, refers to the Bloody Sunday in Ireland, and that handkerchief has appeared in a few poems right the way through my work, if we were to give it as grand a title. At some level, I'm one of those poets, like most poets, for whom it's all one big thing. You know, it's all one big thing. Wallace Stevens talks about the whole of harmonium—the whole of harmonium. This is true of most poets, because, almost inevitably, there is some core personality at the heart of the enterprise. It's inevitable that things come together. Some poets have helped things to come together a little bit more. Yeats, for example, took quite an active role in the construction of his system and continuities, from the beginning of his career to the end. He did a little bit of tweaking here and there to encourage people to think that he was quite consistent in what he was doing and, maybe, even knew what he was doing. I'm less interested in knowing what I'm doing. In fact, I'm not interested in that at all, but I'm interested in the idea that the whole world that has come into being through my poems is consistent, and that there are echoes.


This thing that you recognize in the first book I wrote actually comes up here, again. The poem I wrote, longer poem in the first book I wrote, is actually about Bloody Sunday, but not in so obvious a way as, say, "Dirty Data" refers to it. "Dirty Data" is a kind of wild poem that attempts to draw together certain far-flung ideas. You know, Ben Hur, Bloody Sunday, a whole range of things along those lines.



Rutkin: Very political, right?



Muldoon: To some extent, yeah. I'm not quite sure what it's politics are. It certainly refers to political occurrences. Some of my poems are quite political in the conventional sense. Funny enough, more of the American stuff, in a strange way, than the Irish stuff.



Rutkin: Do you think about those two differently? The American stuff and the Irish stuff?



Muldoon: It depends. I've lived here about thirty years, so it's all a bit of a mishmash really now, but in a strange way, I've gotten more involved on commentary on American politics than I ever did on commentary on Irish politics, except maybe something like that I did the other day at Collin's Barracks.


Rutkin: I think that there's a line from "Cuba (2)" that showed some real foresight, on your part. “In Ireland we need to start now to untangle/ the rhetoric of 2016”



Muldoon: That's right, to which I'm now contributing.



Rutkin: But that could easily be said about American politics, as well.



Muldoon: Oh, yes, it could. That's right. That's absolutely right.



Rutkin: But back to "Dirty Data," I think that the politics of “The Eoghan Rua Variations” are connected to those of "Dirty Data."



Muldoon: Quite possibly. See, I haven't thought about that, because this thing is just kind of hot off the presses, but what would you say?



Rutkin: I'd say that, with the body of Winston Churchill passing through, and then out of “Dirty Data,” it's making the same sort of statement as “The Eogan Rua Variations.” It's the English, their days are numbered, too.



Muldoon: Mhm. Well, there is a reference to a phrase used by Winston Churchill, "such is the integrity of their quarrel.” He's talking about the Irish quarrel. I read, somewhere, that long after the world is flooded, and the dreary steeple of Tyrone and Fermanagh show again above the flood, they'll still be fighting each other. Such is the integrity of their quarrel. But I use it in that poem because there's a kind of slippage, a kind of linguistic corruption, even, in a line like, "such is the integrity of their corral," which is a phrase that occurs in "Dirty Data," which is a play on the Winston Churchill line. It refers to the horses in Ben Hur. That's a poem which is a kind of collage. It's using something of the technique of the collage, which of course was used by many modernist poets under the influence of Eliot, most notably, perhaps, in "The Wasteland." So it's using some of the techniques used in "The Wasteland," a poem for which I've a lot of time, as it were. It was a poem that was very influential on me when I was a kid. Things like that are coming back.



Rutkin: So the Easter Uprising is quite notably infused with poetics, with Padraig Pearse, and with Joseph Mary Plunkett.



Muldoon: Right, who's a figure in a couple of these poems, that's right.



Rutkin: So what do you feel, especially right after writing the lyrics for that choral song, and “The Eoghan Rua Variations,” what do you feel are the place of poetics in contemporary Irish politics?



Muldoon: I'm torn, because I think, most of the time, poetry is about figuring stuff out for one's self, but I think some of the time, actually, other's may benefit from that attempt to figure out stuff. I'm always a little hesitant about it really, because I'm not generally enthusiastic about, say, film stars telling about the state of the world. I sort of resist that, and yet, on the other hand, you know, they’re right, and maybe people will pay attention to them. I have very mixed feelings about it.  I certainly don't think that poets know anything more than anyone else. On the other hand, I think many of them have given themselves over to being open to what the world has to tell them, or what has to be told through them. I have mixed feelings about it. And I'm always fascinated that poets are asked for their opinions on political matters, but painters are not so much. Pantomime artists are not so often asked, but painters and pantomime artists probably know at least as much as poets. Poets are asked because people think they use words, which of course is true, in some sense. You can see why people would think that, but ideally the greatest poets are not people who use words, but, as I'm sure I've said innumerable times, whom are used by words.



Rutkin: Back a little bit to Plunkett, in "Firing Squad," you use two epigraphs, one from a letter by Frost, one from a letter by Plunkett, both from the day of Plunkett’s execution. Why include an epigraph in a poem? Why include two, at that?



Muldoon: Well think of how much work it saves. The poem is already halfway down the page. I was fascinated to realize that the two epigraphs stem from the same day, they come from the same day, from a line from Robert Frost, who's somebody I'm interested in, to this line from Joseph Mary Plunkett. There's some connection between the two, I'm not sure what it is.



Rutkin: I think it raises more questions than it answers.



Muldoon: Quite possibly.



Rutkin: I see two readings that are at odds with one another.


Muldoon: What do you think?



Rutkin: They're both about resolving something in death. The line in Frost is "the poet in me died nearly ten years ago."



Muldoon: That's right, that's right, of course that's part of it.



Rutkin: But I think it's a bit, from what you say in your essay "Getting Round," "Robert Frost, get over yourself." That the death of the poet in one's self is somehow much less important than the death of a poet.



Muldoon: Oh, I think that's probably right, too. It can do all those things, can't it? All those things are appropriate, but there's something very poignant, you know, in terms of my own work, about Joseph Mary Plunkett. A version of him occurs in a poem called "Anseo," which may the best known poem that I've written. Somewhere in there, it wouldn't be very much to the fore, but lurking about there somewhere are ideas about the longevity of the poetic life, and concerns about that. I mean Frost was only a kid when he was saying that. He was a late starter. He didn't really start until he was about forty.


Most poets have very short lifespans, if they have any. I mean most of them have no lifespan at all, including quite well-known ones. Most poetry, like most other things, is not very good. So to be good at it is very, very hard. Even if one is good at it for five minutes, when one's about thirty, say, it doesn't usually last for long.



Rutkin: I don't really know what to make of "Anseo" in "Cuba (2)," where it comes up as a tattoo. What is it doing in there?



Muldoon:  It's  there  because,  for   what   it's   worth,   it's   factual.   My   daughter  actually  has Anseo tattooed on her ankle. It's factual, for what it's worth, perhaps not too much, but it's factual, insofar as we can discuss facts.



Rutkin: But you made the decision to include that fact.



Muldoon: That's right. It's a very weird line to write. It refers to that poem of mine, which I ordinarily wouldn't be doing at all. That's a slightly public position, but then it turns into sort of a public poem. Some poems are more public than others. Most of mine are not really public at all. There are writers, Yeats, for example, for whom there are poems that are much more public. They're addressing issues, "Easter: 1916," for example, that a poem like "Byzantium" is not necessarily doing, or "The Song of the Wandering Aengus," is not necessarily doing. Poets write different kinds of poems for different occasions, to go back to the idea of occasion. Each occasion is different.


Rutkin: I think there's a very complicated occasion in the book, "Cuthbert and the Otters," which is public and, I'm sure, very private.


Muldoon: Yeah, I think that's good, that's quite well said. I think you're right. It's a weird thing, isn't it? But, again, there's a tradition. One of the roles that poets have, in many societies, is to make public utterances, including utterances of grief. I've written an uncollected elegy for C.K. Williams, for example. Then there's this one, for Seamus Heaney, with whom I had a particularly close relationship. Our lives were intertwined, at least mine was intertwined was his. I'm not sure the extent to which his was intertwined with mine, if such a distinction is possible. He was a big figure for me.



Rutkin: If we're back to where the order matters, "Seven Selfies from Château d'If," how much does it matter that it came after the elegy for Seamus Heaney?


Muldoon: I'm just trying to psyche myself back in there. I suppose I could have finished the book with “Cuthbert,” but I don't think I could have started it with what I had around. I don't think I could have started it with "Dirty Data." In a strange way, perhaps, I felt the Seamus Heaney poem needed to be, it sounds a bit crass, but it needed to be there, and then we move on a bit. I don't know if that's what I was thinking. It's hard to know where to put a poem like that. In the overall shape of things, somehow, a lot of my books have longer poems at the end, and mostly because, where are you going to put them?


Rutkin: It's because of the hermit monk character. I don't know if it's the best way, but the most apparent way to read "Cuthbert and the Otters" would be Heaney as Cuthbert, as this hermit monk.


Muldoon: Certainly, he's connected to Cuthbert, if only because he's been carried on a bier, or stretcher.


Rutkin: The hermit monk, then makes another appearance, you know with "Marban and Guaire."


Muldoon: Just to go back to that, actually, the thing that's being carried is the salmon to Cuthbert. There's almost a metamorphosis there: Cuthbert and the salmon, Cuthbert's been carried, the salmon's been carried, Heaney's been carried, but it's more Heaney and the salmon that are being carried, by the otters.


Rutkin: It just seems there, "In Seven Selfies," that it's about your poetic relationship with Heaney.


Muldoon: Oh, is it? Let me see. Oh, wow. Yes, that's so interesting. I don't think of this about being about Heaney at all. Did you ever read the Count of Monte Cristo?


Rutkin: I watched the film.


Muldoon: Yeah, okay. So it's really the Count of Monte Cristo, which is a fabulous story. I just love the story of the guy switching positions with the corpse of the old Abbe. That's interesting. I would not have connected that with the Heaney, but I can see how that's a perfectly reasonable thing.


Rutkin: Not to be brash, but, with the position you just took at the Centenary, you are, in a sense, switching places with Heaney.


Muldoon: That's very interesting. You see, I wouldn't have thought of that, but I see what you're saying. I can see that some people might think that. I can see what could be construed as taking over Heaney's role.


I don't think that's something I'm really doing. I'm not sure I have the qualifications to do that. Also, I'm not sure if I want to do it. That's a big role to be. It's a tough role. Seamus was the big, public poet, in Ireland and beyond. It's not the kind of poet I am. I'm not really into that. Partly because it's too big a responsibility, and it's not necessarily one that poets should take on. Seamus naturally gravitated towards it. He felt that he was a spokesperson for the tribe in a way that I don't. Wouldn't ever. Different kind of writing, different kind of poet.



Rutkin: Do you think that the latest thing you did this past week in Dublin is a sort of a one- off?



Muldoon: An aberration? The other side of it is that I love the idea of people reading my poems. I'm not so sure if I love the idea of all the things I would have to do to make them read them. I don't really want to be a public figure. I'm just not interested in that. I want a bit of peace and quiet.



I don't want, at the age of 65, to be a public figure. Seriously. You know what I'm saying? I want to have a snooze.



Rutkin: What was it, then, about this Centenary, that you said, you know what, I'll do it this time?



Muldoon: What it was was people asked me, and I said yes. I didn't ask; it doesn't work like that. You can't go along to the government and say, I'd like to do it.



Rutkin: You could've said no.



Muldoon: Could've said no. God knows, maybe should've. On the other hand, I enjoy a challenge. I particularly enjoy trying to do things that, strictly speaking, are almost impossible. For example, "Dirty Data" is a poem that a wiser soul wouldn't even get involved in, because it's crazy, right? A smarter person would've probably said, I'm not, let's just do something different, let's just go to the movies, but I, because I'm the way I am, I think, okay, let's see what happens here, if we go down this road. I may completely shoot myself in the foot. Maybe it is a crash. I don't know. The other thing about me is, I don't really care. In the overall shape of the world's crashes—financial, literal, metaphorical—in terms of the various great explosions and implosions in the world, it's hardly a big issue.



Rutkin: Not as much "Dirty Data," but the very intricate rhyme pattern of "Cuthbert and the Otters." It's not exactly what you do with "Incantata," but it's close.


Muldoon: Yeah, it's very complex, and it's got nothing to do with anything but itself.



Rutkin: It has the rhyming mirror, folding the rhyme scheme of an extremely long poem about the middle line.



Muldoon: Yes, that's right. It's a kind of axe head. I really only developed that. It's a device that's occurred in a couple of my poems. It's a shape that occurs in nature, a mirroring of things. It occurs in every lake. It was only as I was writing it that it came to fall into that pattern, which sounds really crazy. If you look at that “Eoghan Rua Variations,” for example, you know how things are constructed. It's not entirely obvious how it's done, but in that case, I wrote, essentially, nine versions of that little quatrains in Irish.



Rutkin: You write them in sonnet form.



Muldoon: Yeah, but the first thing I did was write them as quatrains. Then the whole other thing got built up, and it's a very complex structure, too, but it got built up round it. It's what that poem needs, but I'm not going to take that and apply it to something else.



Rutkin: Does a poem not need to know its form?



Muldoon: It learns as it goes what it needs to be, ideally. That's how I view it. It learns as it comes into being what it is, and what it looks like, if anything.


Rutkin: Why do you think your poems are so drawn to the sonnet form?


Muldoon: I don't know; I suppose I was reared on it.


Rutkin: Traditionally, the sonnet is thought of as a love poem, but it's your default measure.



Muldoon: Yeah, it probably is. Well it was the default measure of many generations. In 1600, it would have been the default measure. Possibly in 1800, it was the default measure. Nowadays, it's not, because people aren't interested in measures at all, for the most part. I am still drawn to writing poems that are pieces architecture and engineering. It's just the way am. It's what I was brought up on, really, as well as "The Wasteland." I suppose a lot of my poems combine "The Wasteland," what was happening in that regard, in 1922, and what was happening with the Georgians, at the same time, who were deeply into the received forms.



Rutkin: What do you think a sonnet can do, in 2016? How has its job changed?



Muldoon: 2016, we're more aware than ever of fracture. We're more aware than ever of "The Wasteland." The world is more a wasteland than it was a hundred years ago, in every sense. But, to go back to our friend Frost, there's something about the duration of the sonnet, and the fact that it takes one idea, or one and a half ideas, and either plays with it, or subverts it slightly, tweaks it slightly, twists it slightly, or compounds it slightly, in the case of the Shakespearean sonnet. That's still a very reasonable way of doing business.


Rutkin: Do you think, then, that your sonnet sequences, are somehow paradoxical?



Muldoon: No more paradoxical than they would've been for Shakespeare, or Sydney, or Yeats. That's the other thing about it, it's a fabulous building block in the longer poem, in the sequence. It's a fabulous building block. It's a construction. It's about the way it can be used. It's wonderful standing alone, but as a component, or some version of it as a component, in a longer, bigger structure, it's very robust.

Found In Volume 46, No. 03
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Paul Muldoon
About the Author

Paul Muldoon is the author of twelve major collections

of poetry, including One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (2015), Maggot (2010), Horse Latitudes (2006), 

Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), Hay (1998), The Annals of Chile (1994), Madoc: A Mystery (1990), Meeting the British (1987), Quoof (1983), Why Brownlee Left (1980), 

Mules (1977) and New Weather (1973). He has also published innumerable smaller collections, works of criticism, opera libretti, books for children, song lyrics and radio and television drama. His poetry has been translated into twenty languages.