It’s not clear whether, faced with meeting a stranger, Paul Muldoon would introduce himself foremost as a Princeton University professor, Editor of Poetry at the New Yorker, band member or simply a poet. He is also a Pulitzer Prize winner among a full repertoire of accolades listed in glossy letters on posters around the Colgate University campus.
Born in Ireland, he has been praised across the Atlantic. On February 14, as the posters also state, Muldoon will be coming to Golden Auditorium for a reading as part of the Living Writers series sponsored by the English Department and the Institute for the Creative and Performing Arts. He will also be at the Pub on Friday, February 15, when he will play with his band Rackett.
Muldoon is lyricist, guitar player and percussionist for the band. Rackett also includes colleague Nigel Smith on bass and vocals; Stephen Allen, keyboard and vocals; Bobby Lewis, drums; and Lee Matthew, lead vocals and guitar. The group recently finished a tour through Ireland in 2007, and some of their music is available through the band’s website, www.rackett.org. Rackett’s music has a rock sound to it, with Muldoon’s original lyrics complementing the familiar sounds and rhythms of the instruments.
Muldoon’s poems are different, although the reason why is a little tricky. Visiting Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Carolyn Guile, who was a student of Paul Muldoon at Princeton and helped to arrange his visit, explained.
“[The poetry] has a different feel,” Guile said. “Music tends to fall into structure. It generates expectation.”
In contrast to his lyrics, Muldoon’s poems marked by creative, unexpected patterns woven into characteristic simultaneous themes. Such complexity critics have both praised and criticized, but the multiple layers of meaning are integral. As reviewers have noted, the immediate tone of Muldoon’s poetry is often playful, but it also has an underlying quality of gravity. As one article from The New York Times Sunday Book Review put it, readers are likely to ask: “Is he serious?” The answer is yes, but it isn’t obvious.
An excerpt Muldoon’s poem “Pineapples and Pomegranates” can demonstrate the characteristic traits. The short poem is written in the first person, recalling the moment a “boy of thirteen” first experienced a pineapple. At the time he is ignorant that it is a worldwide symbol of munificence.
“Munificence – right? Not munitions, if you understand where I’m coming from. As if the open hand might, for once, put paid to the hand-grenade in one corner of the planet. I’m talking about pineapples – right? – not pomegranates.”
The poetry is complex, but Muldoon’s lightly accented voice, which can be previewed under the “recordings” section of paulmuldoon.net, persuade a reader smoothly to follow along. Colgate students unfamiliar with Muldoon may even appreciate feeling some discomfort at the foreignness of his poetry before going on to experience catchy, more upbeat songs from Rackett. Carolyn Guile put the situation very well.
“It’s a rare opportunity to get someone like this,” Guile said. “It can change your life in some way. It really has the capacity to affect the way you look at the world.”