Let’s raise a pint of Guinness and say sláinte to poet Paul Muldoon, who turns sixty-two today. Muldoon was born in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, and was educated at the Queen’s University of Belfast, where he studied under Seamus Heaney. He has lived in the United States since 1987, and is currently Howard G.B. Clark Professor of the Humanities and Chair of the University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at Princeton University—and, as if that isn’t enough of a career mouthful, he’s also the poetry editor of The New Yorker, a guitarist in a rock band called Rackett, and an amateur actor. He has received numerous awards, including the T. S. Eliot Prize, the Irish Times Poetry Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry. Most importantly, he owns this insane hound:
Muldoon’s poetry is often contrasted with that of his former mentor, Heaney, with Heaney cast as “the people’s poet”—his poetry is better known and he enjoys greater popular success—and Muldoon as “the poet’s poet,” a writer whose work is too cryptic and obscure for a more general readership. It’s true that Muldoon loves wordplay and allusion, and his poetry is full of wit and riddles. (In a New York Times book review, Peter Davison remarked that Muldoon is “doubtless a dab hand at crossword puzzles.”) But if you don’t mind putting in a little work, there’s a lot of fun to be had with Muldoon’s postmodern high jinks. In honor of his birthday, let’s enjoy a little Muldoonery…
Symposium (you can hear Muldoon read it here)
You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it hold
its nose to the grindstone and hunt with the hounds.
Every dog has a stitch in time. Two heads? You’ve been sold
one good turn. One good turn deserves a bird in the hand.
A bird in the hand is better than no bread.
To have your cake is to pay Paul.
Make hay while you can still hit the nail on the head.
For want of a nail the sky might fall.
People in glass houses can’t see the wood
for the new broom. Rome wasn’t built between two stools.
Empty vessels wait for no man.
A hair of the dog is a friend indeed.
There’s no fool like the fool
who’s shot his bolt. There’s no smoke after the horse is gone.
* * *
The Fish Ladder (from Maggot)
Forty years since I proved a micher
and ate blackberries
along the plank road by a dilapidated weir
that had somehow failed to pave
the way from being a local eyesore
to something on which we might rest assured,
a corduroy causey thrown down by Caesar
across the Fens
being cut and dried by comparison.
Though a flax dam
in which our enthusiasm may be damped
as we grope
towards clarity with the high-strung
sea trout and salmon
is not to be confused with the bog hole
in which my father proved a last ditcher
during World War II, a flax dam may be the very
pool in which we find ourselves in the clear.
Less and less, though, will bog water stave
off the great gobs of gore
that come and go like Jonah’s gallows gourd
from the wound where a doctor still views his tweezer
through the lens
of day-to-day life in a Roman garrison.
Even Jonah has run himself ragged as he swam
against the workload with which he’d been swamped
those last few months in the hope,
I expect, of skipping a rung.
Sometimes the more we examine
things, the less we understand our dual role
as proven escape artist and proven identity switcher.
Just look at how two ferries
have gone down within plain sight of the pier
but only one tatterdemalion wave
has managed to stumble ashore.
And here’s Muldoon reading “A Hummingbird”: