Paul Muldoon

Portrait Paul Muldoon
Paul Muldoon [© Beowulf Sheehan]

The poet Paul Muldoon was born in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland in 1951 and grew up in the rural region of the Moy. He studied English language and literature at Queen’s University in Belfast, where he later worked for the BBC, producing mostly radio broadcasts before moving on to television.

From the very first volume of poems »New Weather« [1973] he was hailed as a poet of note and was frequently compared to his teacher, the Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney. Following a period as Writer in Residence at the University of Cambridge, he moved to the USA in 1987, where he has lived ever since, teaching at Columbia and Princeton. He was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1999 to 2004. The lectures he gave there on the art of poetry were published under the ambiguous title »The End of the Poem« [2006]. The lucid, playful, horizon-broadening analyses of poems from the last two centuries also provide a glimpse into Muldoon’s own aesthetic means of production. By way of close reading, the author isolates individual strands within the fabric of the text and follows them in the different linguistic, literary, historical, and theoretical contexts to which they refer. Plurality of meaning, sounds and echoes, etymology and wordplay all become the means through which the power of language gets visible beyond its functionality. »We may use language as a tool, or we may be used by language. And I think that’s the distinction. But even if one’s using it as a tool, I think everyone has had the experience of being used by it«.

Among Muldoon’s influences are the precursors to modernism T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost, and the metaphysical poets [especially John Donne]. He takes up their stylistic devices with brilliant ease as he refers to traditional poetic forms including the sonnet. He has published several long poems, among them »Madoc: A Mystery« [1990], considered his masterpiece. It presents a plan dreamt up by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey to found a utopian society in America as a historical experiment. The volume »Howdie-Skelp« was released in 2021 and is the latest of 14 poetry collections to date. He has also published essays, children’s books, plays, and opera libretti and has worked as an editor and translator [e.g. of works by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Aristophanes]. Most recently, he was involved in the editing of Paul McCartney’s song lyrics and autobiographical essays, »The Lyrics« [2021].

Muldoon is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the American Academy of Fine Arts and Sciences. Among his awards are the T.S. Eliot Prize, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Irish Times Poetry Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Griffin International Prize, the American Ireland Fund Literary Award, the Shakespeare Prize, and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. He lives in New York City and Sharon Springs, New York.

Date: 2022