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He left home just as soon as he was able to put on his wellies by himself and settled down to a carefree existence characterised by the ancient Irish tradition of 'The Trotting of the Bogs'. He eventually wound up at Queen's University, Belfast, having had many adventures along the way, involving Red, White and Blue Indians, Paul Klee, spuds, more spuds, even more spuds, and The Great Pink-Spotted Potato Famine of 1966. It was at University that he started writing poetry, and he managed to get published by Fibber and Fibber while still an undergraduate. While there he was introduced by noted redneck teacher Jerry Hicks to Seamus Heaney with the memorable and possibly immortal line "This is Paul, my pet budgie."
The two became fast friends. One of Muldoon's first poems, indeed, is called 'Hedgehog' and was clearly written to extract the urine from Heaney's very real fear of the creatures: the Hedgehog in Muldoon's poem is a god out for revenge. When first presented with the poem Heaney hid for several days under his blanket.
From such stories mythologies are begun. Muldoon eventually left Queens with a 3rd-class degree and was immediately hailed as genius and a key figure of the Irish Literary Renaissance, although he himself wasn't sure of this new-found fame and, when at parties and other social gatherings, he tended to hide in the nearest available narthex.
Several of Muldoon's poems seek to engage with public life and shared experience and demonstrate Muldoon's belief in the legitimacy of mass cultural experience. "Incantatatatata...", for example, was written in response to Vic Reeves' and Bob Mortimer's television show 'Shooting Stars', with its catchphrase "Ulrikakakakakaaa!" The poem contains at least one direct reference, indeed, with its phonetically rendered 'quaquaqua' and this links back to James Joyce's 'Quoiquoiquoiquoiquoi'. Margaret Thatcher's dictum 'Greed is Good' produced Muldoon's response 'The More A Man Has The More A Man Wants'.
edit Poetry and other works
Muldoon is a formalist. Not only does this mean that he adheres to very strict forms when writing his poems - villanelles, sestinas and so on - but also that he refuses to write at all unless he is attired in full tuxedo and cummerbund. The principal form with which he expresses himself is of course the Sonnet, but if there is one overriding distinguishing feature of his work it is word-play. To illustrate both points I offer this sonnet, never before seen, entirely unpublished, originally intended as a companion piece to his handy little ablutionary masterpiece 'They That Wash on Thursday.'
edit All Along The Line (Along the lines of ‘They That Wash On Thursday’)
- I remember being sentenced to line-writing
- For not towing the line.
- Or was it that I was, defiantly, toeing the line
- In the sand? Either way, I trod a fine line
- As I somehow got my lines crossed
- And, by rule and line,
- Produced a piece of line-work.
- I forget the excuse which teacher swallowed hook, line
- And sinker, but my punishment was in line
- With advised practice, so at the end of the line,
- With nothing more to be done, my lines
- Drawn in dejection brought me into line
- Right enough. And now I would be a writer of lines,
- As fine as you like, just laying it on the line each day.
Muldoon has published ten collections of poetry. These are For Once It Isn't Bloody Raining (1973), Sling-backs and Espadrilles (1977), (It Was The Smell) (1980), Silly Made-Up Words (1983), Meeting The Fenians - Only Joking! (1987) (It was also, for a brief time, known as Occupational Hazards), Murdock - The A-Team's Mystery (1990), Canals full of Chili (1994), Hey! (1998) and Moi, Sand and Gravel (2002), with which he cemented his reputation as poet dealing with concrete examples of life in Ireland and America, and for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In response to the prize his most recent volume of poetry, published in 2006, is entitled Hoarse Platitudes.
Muldoon has also published two prose works. The first, entitled To Ireland, A-H, I, J-Z consists of four essays. The first of these, "Wonder Woman," details the impact of Cathleen Ni Houlihan on DC Comics; the second, "The Next-Door Neighbours Play Their Music Too Loud," is an existential musing on the nature of violence: the third, "Alone in Tralee," follows on from the second by providing a detailed survival guide to enable visitors to cope with Irish urban life; the fourth and last is a short mystery story called "Death on the Nile."
The second prose book contains all fifteen lectures delivered by Muldoon while he was Oxford Professor of Poetry. It is called Arsing About With Poems.
- ↑ Although, again, he has it at 195-won, which makes me think of the Gaelic uin, une, un, ouine, uine, aoibheanoun, bhfestgedergabhadaeuinaeoain, then something else, then something else again, before finally arriving at the Greek eon, which tells us, ultimately, that Paul Muldoon has been around for ages. And Ages leads directly to Aegis, which tells us that, in his own eyes at least, he's a poet well worth watching.