Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Seamus Heaney on Paul Muldoon

A couple of points of interest from the discussion last night:

First, thanks to Gregory for pointing out that Seamus Heaney's review of Paul Muldoon's The Annals of Chile (1994), containing the poem "Incantata," is included in his book of selected essays, Finders Keepers: Selected Prose 1971-2001 (london: Faber, 2002).

The relevant passage runs as follows:

In Paul Muldoon's new book .... personal grief and creative glee keep playing into one another's hands. One of several extraordinary poems here is called 'Incantata', a lamentation for the premature death by cancer of a young and gifted artist. This is both a cry of heartbreak and a virtuoso performance. The higher the lift-off the poem achieves, the deeper the registers it engages ...

'Incantata' commemorates the life and work of Mary Farl Powers, an artist who was much cherished because of the intensity of her striving for spiritual and technical perfection. 'Incantata' is an example of what we might call 'the Lycidas syndrome,' whereby one artist's sense of vocation and purpose is sent into crisis by the untimely death of another. Here Paul Muldoon is possessed by a subject that puts all his brilliance to the test, with the result that he blossoms into truth and humanizes his song to an extraordinary degree. [395-96]

Elsewhere he refers to Muldoon as "one of the era's true originals."

The 'Lycidas' reference is of course to Milton (Shelley's 'Adonais,' on the death of Keats, might be another example - or, for that matter, Tennyson's In Memoriam).

I don't know how Paul Muldoon would have reacted to that "blossoms into truth" phrase - or the one about "humanizing his song" ... Did that have anything to do (as Gregory suggested in discussion) with the tone of Muldoon's own remarks about Heaney in his recent book of essays The End of the Poem: Oxford Lectures (New York: Farrar Straus Girous, 2006)?

One of the poignancies of "Keeping Going" is the speaker's assertion - one we don't expect from a Heaney speaker - ... [of] the insurmountable fact of the limitations of art:
But you cannot make the dead walk or right wrong

This is not to say that a poem ... doesn't have some efficacy in the world, doesn't effect some change. It must change something, as these ... examples so elegantly display. One of the ways in which they do this is to clear their own space, bringin us 'all together in a foretime,' if I may borrow that phrase from section 3 of "Keeping Going" ... This condition of a "foretime" of the poem is, yet again, a version of what I described earlier as the "problem" to which the poem is a "solution" ... We appeal to the "foretime" of "Keeping Going" and recognise ... that to carry itself forward in the world - testing itself, and us, against a sense of how it itself "was / In the begining, is now and shall be' - is indeed the end of the poem.

This almost sounds as if he regards poems as self-justifying, posing a "problem" to which they themselves are the "solution." It's certainly a far less ringing pronouncement than Heaney's.

Oh, and as a footnote, I checked my ownb copy of Graham Lindsay's Lazy Wind Poems, which certainly does contain pp. 25-40. I can make a copy of them if you like, Bruce, but it might be better to send the book back to AUP and get a replacement one with the full text in it ...

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