Paul Muldoon | Reading from One Thousand Things Worth Knowing
CQAF | 101 The Redeemer, 09 May ’15
Pulitzer and TS Eliot prize winner Paul Muldoon took to the stage at 101 The Redeemer to read from his new collection of poetry One Thousand Things Worth Knowing. Paul was described in the Times Literary Supplement as the most significant English language poet since the Second World War.
The hushed church atmosphere, stained-glass windows and candles of 101 The Redeemer is the perfect backdrop for a poetry reading by Paul Muldoon. His softly spoken Armagh accent added to the reverential atmosphere as he read from both his new collection and a variety of others. Paul reads his poetry as, “a sense of explication to myself, an act of criticism.” His oration style gives breathing space to the complex subject matter of his poems.
Paul opened with Dodgems, evoking childhood memories of seaside holidays in Portrush, with its ‘candy cotton clouds’, set in the 1960’s. He was drawn back to that imperfect sense of childhood, the dodgem pick up pole reminding him of the upright tail of a chipmunk. This collection according to Paul, “is teeming with bits of odd information, factoids”, and he uses extended metaphor and scattered imagery to build a sense of coherence within his work, comparing like with unlike, an essential component of poetry for Muldoon. From his current collection Paul also read Recalculate, Cuba 2, Pelt, Alvaros De Campos: Belfast 1922, and Barrage Balloons, Buck Alec, Bird Flu and You.
You are instantly aware of Paul’s sensitivity to how words communicate and what words say, and at the same time, you get that sense of the unknowing innocent space he endeavours to create when writing. You are torn between listening on an emotive level, letting go of the literal sense, and following the metaphors as they weave their way around their themes; but, as you follow a metaphor and start to get a sense of its meaning, it’s juxtaposed with another, loosening your understanding, and the sense of mystery that is crucial to Muldoon in poetry, is maintained.
By exploring many subjects within the collection and individual poems, Muldoon states: “I’m interested in the capacity of the poem to include as much as possible, being on the brink, living dangerously, which is the only way to live as far as I’m concerned in terms of poetry.” The theme often returns to bereavement within this collection, reflecting upon older age and the loss of friends and acquaintances. The opening poem in the book, Cuthbert and the Otter, is an elegy to his late friend and mentor Seamus Heaney.
An attentive Muldoon engaged the audience throughout, regularly checking that the sound was ok, holding them spellbound until the end. After rapturous applause, he returned for an encore and closed with Pelt. A Muldoon reading leaves one with a sense of wonder and frustration, the cryptic nature of the extended metaphors and fragmentary asides are a challenge unmet, the conclusions and sense of coherence are seemingly not always connected to the premise. But like his poetry, the man is an enigma, a mystery unfolding on stage, and fascinating to watch.