Lecture Hop: Paul Muldoon
Written by Bwog Staff
Bwog’s Anna Kelner hung out in Schermerhorn last night to see the famous poet.
“I suppose he doesn’t need any introduction,” English professor Cóilín Parsons joked in lieu of a formal opening for Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon. Although Parsons rightfully exalted the Irish poet as a “man of many jobs” and “a man of many accolades” — Muldoon is the Howard G.B Clark ’21 Professor at Princeton University and the Poetry Editor of The New Yorker, among other things — the sparsely populated Schermerhorn lecture room suggested that an introduction might have been in order.
The under-publicized event, the relatively small lecture space, and the introduction by a junior faculty member all seemed hardly appropriate for a man both Parsons and The Times Literary Supplement deemed “the most significant English language poet born since the Second World War.” Muldoon’s accolades are endless. Parsons’ introduction, though, touched on a more human side of the great writer: first poem at twelve, first published at nineteen, and a passion beyond the superlatives.
Muldoon conveyed that energy while reading several of his poems. Since Muldoon taught at Columbia in the 1980s, he offered several jokes aimed at a New York audience. To wit, as he described a poem about a slithering eel skin bag bound for the East River, he simultaneously characterized his experience traveling from the Upper East Side to Columbia: “It was covered with eel skin,” he quipped, “which if one wants to blend in on the Upper East Side, is just the thing to carry.”
After his brief homage to the university, he delivered a series of poems about his home nation. Although Muldoon has lived in the United States since 1987, he remains deeply tied to Ireland’s fraught past and famed literary tradition. During the question and answer session that followed, when an audience member asked him if he missed Ireland, Muldoon replied, “Not really. I don’t feel as though I’ve ever left it.”
Later, Muldoon reminisced on writing his first poem, remembering that his teacher critiqued his incidental use of American English. “I was already entranced with American English, if only via the television westerns.” Enamored with both the English of the writers he reveres and the Gaelic of his home nation, he remains committed to the two tongues.
Parsons concluded his questions with a strange comparison between Muldoon’s rhymes and Bob Dylan’s and a discussion of the former’s latest opera, one that apparently stars a Frank Lloyd Wright character. He then opened the floor up to the audience. The listeners asked about his writing process, his relationship to Ireland, and his professed love of Robert Frost. Muldoon then concluded with a whimsical description of his relationship to the mythology of Treasure Island: a meandering end to a meandering evening.