Paul Muldooooooooonier!

Posted by on Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Here he is again, making a splash in Slate this time, where James Longenbach reviews Muldoon’s latest book of poetry and mentions some of Muldoon’s essays (haven’t read any of it yet, myself–such a poor scholar these days).   Take a peek, and maybe it will make you fall for Muldoon like I have.

I’ll intended to hold off on critiquing the critique too much, but I have to point out two things.  I must.  I’m going to rant now, so feel free to go get a coffee and come back later.

"Muldoon is much bigger than that, more serious, more weighty, imbued with a passionate commitment to the language for whose attention he—writing in English as an Irish poet—competes. " 

You know what, Longenbach?  Shut up and go study Ireland a bit more before you start that sort of drivel.  Yes, there are certainly Irish poets who feel a strong connection to the Irish language, and who mourn its decline.  Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill is best among them, as far as I’m concerned, and I love her for it.  But Muldoon isn’t burning a candle for Irish.  He didn’t grow up in some quaint backwater, he doesn’t lack for fluency in English, and he is not uncomfortable with his first language.  Which is English.  He’s not from a Gaeltacht, and he is writing poetry in the language that is most comfortable for him.  And, in case you’re confused, he doesn’t cut turf, he doesn’t say "tree" when he means "three", and don’t call him Paddy.

This first slip is driving me up a wall because language is an intensely political thing in Northern Ireland.  The critic doesn’t realize that by hanging on which language Muldoon writes in, he’s essentially accusing Muldoon of being an IRA-supporting Republican.  Muldoon is not one. 

Second:  "While American poets are generally troubled by their cultural irrelevance, Irish poets are blinded (or not) by the commonplace assumption of their relevance. Sen. Yeats once offered American poet Ezra Pound this ridiculous piece of advice in a public letter: "Do not be elected to the Senate of your country"—as if such a thing were possible for poets in the United States."

This bit, which is actually a misstatement of Muldoon’s non-fiction, drives me mad because Ireland is not, in fact, a magic place where poets garner the respect they deserve and streams of honey and ale flow from every mountain.  Poets are having a hard time there too, buddy.  And the Irish Senate is nothing like the American Senate–that’s why Pound could have never been elected to the US Senate. 

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