The Word on the Street: Paul Muldoon, Faber
Paul Muldoon is one of Ireland’s leading contemporary poets. He published his first collection in 1971, taking his place as the youngest member of a group of Northern Ireland poets which includes Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Derek Mahon. As a Pulitzer prize winner Muldoon has long ago joined the pantheon of “those who shall be remembered” in terms of poetry.
My knowledge of his work extends little past Why Brownlee Left, a collection published back in l980, the title poem of which is still shifting its weight from foot to foot and staring into all our futures. I once attended a workshop with a poem that I had written which ended with someone looking “into the future”. I was told quite smartly by another workshop member that I could not use that expression because Paul Muldoon had a patent on it. He was joking – I think.
I admit I stared at this small volume on my desk for weeks, feeling weighed down by responsibility of having to review anything by Muldoon, bearing in mind his reputation and long history at the top of his game. What is there left to say?
But then I read that Richard Eder in the New York Times Book Review has, (according to the Faber press release for this work) referred to Muldoon as a “shape-shifting Proteus to readers who try to pin him down”. Happiness! This meant I didn’t have to try and pin Muldoon down and could concentrate on enjoying the work. I found this immensely freeing. As the poet says, “Even a crow will not presume/To stick to the script exactly” (from You say you’re just hanging out but I know you’re just hanging in).
So let us hang out, or in, or move on or sing the Badass Blues. This short volume of lyrics doesn’t need to be pinned. It just really needs to be read and enjoyed. And The Word on the Street is hugely enjoyable. It is funny and sage and sorrowful, pointing out with ease and playful rhyme where the excreta is hitting the fan of our modern busy lives, and how little of the excreta is helped by our equally modern day sticking plaster solutions: “No room for nuclear families/In a nuclear sub” (From Cleaning up my Act).
I liked the sense of desolation in Azerbaijan:
“… But we’re moving on
Is way up there
The house we bought
Through Morgan Chase
It’s come to naught.”
and the “empty parking lot” feel of Elephant anthem:
“The elephants are less disposed
To work hard now they’ve found
The Vineland Drive-in will stay
Until the Spring …”
Apparently, it’s never too late to Rock n Roll although, according to the poem of that title: “It may be too late to sail to/Mozambique/With a psychotic cat.” In my case I feel it definitely is.
The term lyric, in its original meaning, is a short poem designed to be sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument. Many of the poems published in this volume have been and are part of the repertoire of Wayside Shrines, the band of which Muldoon is a member. Wayside Shrines can be seen performing here