[Like the review below, this also was originally written on Amazon.]
If glibness can be elevated to greatness, then (as critics like to say), Muldoon has no peer. But that’s a big “if”. I picked up this volume based on a recent New York Times article where I read that (just in case you haven’t heard yet) he is a Professor of Poetry at both Oxford and Princeton, having been inducted into the former at the tender age of 20. Surely, dear reader, you must know by now the unparalleled list of professorial poets produced by Oxford & Princeton? Need I name names?
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???