Thursday, June 12, 2008

Poetry Session 4: Muldoon / Reading

[University of Iowa, Iowa City]

My sister-in-law Therese Lloyd, who's just been studying at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, tells me that while she was there Paul Muldoon came to do a reading.

The convention was for each of the students to take turns hosting the post-reading party (Therese had to host the one for the novelist John Irving, but that's another story ...)

Anyway, at this one she saw the poet cornered by the three biggest nerds in the whole group, who were quizzing him on the most intimate details of his poetics, and decided that it was up to her to rescue him.

So she went up and told him how much she'd enjoyed his reading.

"Tank you, tank you ... And what accent would that be you have." [You have to imagine all this in a rather more plausible Ulster brogue than I can muster, tempered by the 20 or so years he's spent teaching in the States, at Princeton].

"A New Zealand accent."

"Ah, New Zealand! C. K. Stead, now, he's from New Zealand, isn't he? I remember having to read his book The New Poetic when I was an undergraduate, and a fine book it is, too ..."

Luckily Therese had read the book, and so was able to concur.

They had quite a nice little chat after that, it seems. She introduced him to her fiance, and generally let him off any more hard questions about his poetics ...

The only other detail she had to report was that during the reading he used the word "coyote" in one of his poems. Only he pronounced it: "KOY-oat."

"Is that the correct way to say it?" he mused aloud.

The crowd shouted "Ky-OH-tee."

"Koy-OAT" he said.


"KOY-oat," he continued. "I can;'t get that at all. I tink I'd better keep on saying it my way, so, KOY-oat ..."

I don't know what all that adds up to, but it's always nice to rub shoulders with greatness - you never know what you mightn't pick up.

Remember to check out my earlier post, with a link to the Listener interview with Muldoon.

Is he purely a game-player, or is there more to his poetry? "Incantata" seems heartfelt enough, but what of the other poem I've included in your anthology, "The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants" -- what's that about? The troubles? Or postmodernity in general?


As for Peter Reading, I guess it's difficult to judge the success of his technical innovations without reading at least one of his books as a whole. He does seem to have something of the novelist's temperament - or at least an interest in overarching narratives.

Perduta gente (1989) is still probably his most celebrated single volume, with its critique of Thatcher's Britain, the nuclear industry, and the monstrously proliferating cardboard cities in the great cities of Europe.

More recently, in -273.15 [absolute zero] (2005) he's shifted his attention from social engineering to ecology.

He's an angry man, but there's (arguably) a lot for him to be angry about ...

See you on Monday 14th July (Bastille Day), then. Bruce is booked in to give us a seminar. We may have some guests for the discussion, also.

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