Paul Muldoon

Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish Poet

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • The End of the Poem
  • An evening with Paul Muldoon

“Paul Muldoon is a shape-shifting Proteus to readers who try to pin him down…Those who interrogate Muldoon’s poems find themselves changing shapes each time he does…authentically touched or delighted.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Without question one of the most inventive poets writing in English today.” —Andrew Frisardi, The Boston Sunday Globe

Paul Muldoon was born in 1951 in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, and educated in Armagh and at the Queen’s University of Belfast. From 1973 to 1986, he worked in Belfast as a radio and television producer for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Since 1987 he has lived in the United States, where he is now Howard G. B. Clark ’21 Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University. Between 1999 and 2004, he was Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford. The End Of The Poem, a collection of his Oxford lectures, was published in 2006. Paul Muldoon’s collections of poetry are New Weather (1973); Mules (1977); Why Brownlee Left (1980); Quoof (1983); Meeting The British (1987); Madoc: A Mystery (1990); The Annals of Chile (1994); Hay (1998); Poems 1998-1998 (2001); Moy Sand and Gravel (2002); for which he won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize; Horse Latitudes (2006); and Maggot (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010). His next collection of poems, The Word on the Street, can double as rock lyrics and was published in February 2013.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Paul Muldoon was given an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in literature in 1996. Other awards are the 1994 T. S. Eliot Prize, the 1997 Irish Times Poetry Prize, the 2003 Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry, the 2004 American Ireland Fund Literary Award, and the 2004 Shakespeare Prize. He is the current Poetry Editor of the New Yorker Magazine.

Muldoon has been described by The Times Literary Supplement as “the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War.” It has been written about his poems that they “remind us of the Elizabethan’s definition of wit, a deadly serious form of play that encompassed far more than mere humor, but included originality and ingenuity, particularly in the forging of concise and startlingly appropriate phrases to capture the paradoxes of human experience. These paradoxes are at play in many of Muldoon’s poems, which will often share classical forms out of the most common street slang, or tackle metaphysical questions with the language of advertising slogan and pop records.”

Paul Muldoon’s website

Paul Muldoon is the author of numerous books of poetry, including The Word on the StreetMaggotHorse Latitudes; Moy Sand and Gravel, for which he won the 2002 Pulitzer Prizeand many other collections. He was awarded the 1994 T. S. Eliot Prize, the 1997 Irish Times Poetry Prize, the 2003 Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry, the 2004 American Ireland Fund Literary Award, and the 2004 Shakespeare Prize. He is the current Poetry Editor of the New Yorker Magazine.

In his new book of rock lyrics, Paul Muldoon goes back to the essential meaning of the term “lyric”—a short poem sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument. These words are written for music most assuredly, with half an ear to Yeats’s ballad-singing porter drinkers and half to Cole Porter—and indeed, many of them double as rock songs, performed by Wayside Shrines, the Princeton-based music collective of which Muldoon is a member. Their themes are the classic themes of song: lost love, lost wars, Charlton Heston, barbed wire, pole dancers, cellulite, Hegel, elephants, Oedipus, more barbed wire, Buddy Holly, Jersey peaches, Julius Caesar, Trenton, cockatoos, and the Youngers (Bob and John and Jim and Cole). The Word on the Street is a lively addition to this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet’s masterful body of work.

MAGGOT (Poetry, 2010)
Of Plan B, an interim volume that included several of the poems in Maggot, Robert McCrum recently said in the London Observer that “Paul Muldoon, who has done so much to reimagine the poet’s task, has surpassed himself with his latest collection.” In Maggot, Muldoon reminds us that he is a traditional poet who is steadfastly at odds with tradition. If the poetic sequence is the main mode of Maggot, it certainly isn’t your father’s poetic sequence. Taking as a starting point W. B. Yeats’s remark that the only fit topics for a serious mood are “sex and the dead,” Muldoon finds unexpected ways of thinking and feeling about what it means to come to terms with the early twenty-first century. It’s no accident that the centerpiece of Maggot is an outlandish meditation on a failed poem that draws on the vocabulary of entomological forensics. The last series of linked lyrics, meanwhile, takes as its subject the urge to memorialize the scenes of fatal automobile accidents. The extravagant linkage of rot and the erotic is at the heart of not only the title sequence but also many of the round songs that characterize Maggot, and has led Angela Leighton, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, to see these new poems as giving readers “a thrilling, wild, fairground ride, with few let-ups for the squeamish.”

HORSE LATITUDES (Poetry, 2007)
Muldoon is undisputedly a master poet. Many of his poems distinctly take up the poetic tradition yet skew it with half-rhymes and unlikely subjects for classical forms, and also engage deeply with the troubled politics of his native Northern Ireland yet intertwine them with Muldoon’s own personal history, mythology, and esoteric symbolism. If these poems are reluctant to offer themselves to easy interpretation, they nonetheless seduce the reader into repeated readings in which they only grow more interesting, a sure sign of their capacity to last. In Horse Latitudes, the Pulitzer Prize-winner and former professor of poetry at Oxford (his Oxford lectures are being released concurrently) is as good as ever. Amid the usual parade of poetic forms (a riddle, haiku, and pantoum, among others), he treats post-9/11 America (“those were my Twin Towers, right?”); aging, fatherhood and mortality (“a country toward which I’ve been rowing / for fifty years”); the notion of “the old country” in a tour-de-force crown of sonnets (“Every escape was a narrow escape / where every stroke was a broad stroke/ of an ax on a pig nape. / Every pig was a pig in a poke”); and the deaths of his sister and rocker Warren Zevon. With signature wit, Muldoon is preoccupied with the passage of time, the ways things change and stay the same, the distance between one culture and another, as well as the narrowing gap between high and popular culture. —Publisher’s Weekly


Simply because she’d turn her back on me,
a porcupine on the Homer Noble farm
would unwittingly
give me a shot in the arm,

bustling off in her ball gown
while clutching a quillwork purse.
I’m thinking of how our need to do ourselves down
will often be an inverse

proportion to how much we want
to be esteemed. I’m thinking of those who,
in the same breath, will kiss up to us and kiss

us off. I’m thinking of a woman who’d flaunt
from her shoulder blade a tattoo:

—from Maggot


Why Brownlee left, and where he went,
Is a mystery even now.
For if a man should have been content
It was him; two acres of barley,
One of potatoes, four bullocks,
A milker, a slated farmhouse.
He was last seen going out to plough
On a March morning, bright and early.
By noon Brownlee was famous;
They had found all abandoned, with
The last rig unbroken, his pair of black
Horses, like man and wife,
Shifting their weight from foot to
Foot, and gazing into the future.

—from Why Brownlee Left

I am stretched out under the lean-to
Of an old tobacco-shed
On a farm in North Carolina.
A cardinal sings from the dogwood
For the love of marijuana.
His song goes over my head.
There is such splendour in the grass
I might be the picture of happiness.
Yet I am utterly bereft
Of the low hills, the open-ended sky,
The wave upon wave of pasture
Rolling in, and just as surely
Falling short of my bare feet,
Whatever is passing is passing me by.

I am with Raleigh, near the Atlantic,
Where we have built a stockade
Around our little colony.
Give him his scallop-shell of quiet,
His staff of faith to walk upon,
His scrip of joy, immortal diet—
We are some eighty souls
On whom Raleigh will hoist his sails.
He will return, years afterwards,
To wonder where and why
We might have altogether disappeared,
Only to glimpse us here and there
As one fair strand in her braid,
The blue in an Indian girl’s dead eye.

I am stretched out under the lean-to
Of an old tobacco-shed
On a farm in North Carolina,
When someone or other, warm, naked,
Stirs within my own skeleton
And stands on tip-toe to look out
Over the horizon,
Through the zones, across the Ocean.
The cardinal sings from a redbud
For the love of one slender and shy,
The flight after flight of stairs
To her room in Bayswater,
The damson freckle on her throat
That I kissed when we kissed Goodbye.