In This Article Paul Muldoon

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Prose Writing
  • Drama, Performance, and Adaptations
  • Interviews
  • Collections of Critical Essays
  • Comparative Studies
  • Muldoon and Northern Irish Poetry: Debates and Criticism
  • Colonialism and Postcolonialism
  • Poetics and the Medium of Poetry
  • Place, Space, and Displacement
  • Children’s Literature

British and Irish Literature Paul Muldoon
by
Anne Karhio
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0157

Introduction

Paul Muldoon was born in Portadown, Northern Ireland, in 1951 and spent his childhood in the village of Moy at the border of County Armagh and County Tyrone—a setting for several of his poems. He studied at Queen’s University Belfast and published his first collections of poetry in the early 1970s. At the time of the publication of his first volumes, Muldoon famously enjoyed the mentorship of Seamus Heaney, and this biographical and literary connection has been a constant reference point in criticism, to an extent that other significant literary exchanges and influences initially remained underexplored. After working for the BBC in Belfast until the mid-1980s, Muldoon moved to the United States in 1987. Now a US citizen, he currently lives in New York and works at Princeton University, where he holds the Howard G. B. Clark ’21 chair in the humanities. Muldoon has published twenty-two major collections of poetry, nineteen chapbooks and interim collections, two volumes of critical essays, three opera libretti, song lyrics, translations, and children’s literature. He has been repeatedly characterized as a shapeshifting figure, whose work simultaneously reaffirms and undermines preheld conceptions of what we mean by “Irish poetry.” Thus, to propose that his idiosyncratic style and the remarkable complexity of his verse resists critical categorization is a case of stating the obvious. A reverse claim, however, might be more appropriate: that his writing embraces such a variety of categories that attempts at classification lose their purpose. Muldoon’s densely referential writing and his technical mastery of poetic language are matched by few poets of his generation, and the issue of how successfully his undeniable dexterity translates into poetic efficacy has been a persistent tendency in his critical reception. Muldoon has been, in turns, praised for his unrivaled skill and technical virtuosity or accused of his poetry’s evasiveness, perceived as a lack of social or political commitment. Yet, few would question that his verse has a place in any overview of modern Irish writing, modern English-language poetry, or experimental 20th- and 21st-century poetics. In the early 21st century, Muldoon’s perceived obliquity, or his distaste for direct political engagement with the crises of late-20th-century Northern Ireland, has made way to a more outspoken approach, in poetry as well as in public life. His work has been highly critical of the US invasion of Iraq, for example, and also tackled problematic aspects of Irish culture and history in an increasingly direct manner.

General Overviews

There are currently three single-author monographs that offer a general overview of Muldoon’s writing and career: Kendall 1996, Wills 1998, and Holdridge 2008. By the mid-1990s, when the poet had already published seven major collections and a considerable number of smaller interim publications, the time seems to have been ripe for a more extensive glance at Muldoon’s writing and his development as a poet. These volumes are structurally similar but are characterized by certain differences in emphasis: Kendall 1996 is somewhat more biographically and historically oriented than Wills 1998, which is more focused on aesthetics, developments in style, and meticulously executed close reading. As the most recent critical overview, Holdridge 2008 has the advantage of being able to address the American contexts of Muldoon’s career and poetry more extensively, more than twenty years after his move to the United States. It also pays more attention to the romantic, modernist, and postmodernist frameworks and contexts of the poet’s work and its critical reception. Each of these volumes proceeds chronologically, mainly proceeding from one major collection to the next, chapter by chapter. With a couple of exceptions, smaller interim volumes are mostly acknowledged as interludes between main collections.

  • Holdridge, Jefferson. The Poetry of Paul Muldoon. Dublin, Ireland: Liffey, 2008.

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    This is the most up-to-date monograph-length overview of Muldoon’s writing. In particular, it stands out due to its considering of the American contexts of Muldoon’s work and reception more extensively than other overviews of his poetry, covering work until Horse Latitudes (2006). In particular, Holdridge addresses the question of modernist versus postmodernist frameworks of Muldoon’s writing, as well as their manifestations in the Irish, British, and North American contexts.

  • Kendall, Tim. Paul Muldoon. Chester Springs, PA: Dufour Editions, 1996.

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    Kendall’s introduction is an informative and detailed study of Muldoon’s writing until The Annals of Chile (1994) and the play Six Honest Serving Men (1995). Of the three monograph-length general overviews on Muldoon’s writing, Kendall’s volume also offers the most detailed account of the biographical and historical contexts of Muldoon’s early life and career.

  • Wills, Clair. Reading Paul Muldoon. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Bloodaxe Books, 1998.

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    Despite having been published near the end of the 20th century and thus not including a discussion of Muldoon’s later work, Wills’s study remains a key text for anyone interested in his writing. The detailed discussion on Muldoon’s poetry and poetics covers major collections from New Weather (1973) until The Annals of Chile (1994).

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