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Jacket 20 — December 2002   |   # 20  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |

John Kerrigan

Paul Muldoon’s Transits:

Muddling through after Madoc

This piece is 10,200 words or about twenty printed pages long.

Endnotes are given at the end of this file. Click on the note to be taken to it; likewise to return to the text.

Making good use of the playful-plain style that characterizes his most everyday book — his verse-journal for January 1992 — The Prince of the Quotidian, Paul Muldoon grumbles:

In the latest issue
of the TLS ‘the other Seamus’, Seamus Deane,

has me ‘in exile’ in Princeton:
this term serves mostly to belittle
the likes of Brodsky or Padilla

and is not appropriate of me; certainly not
of anyone who, with ‘Louisa May’ Walcott,
is free to buy a ticket to his emerald isle

of choice. To Deane I say, ‘I’m not “in exile”,
though I can’t deny
that I’ve been twice in Fintona’. [Note 1]

To be fair to Deane — as Muldoon isn’t, quite — the offending TLS piece is an imaginary dialogue between Joyce and W. B. Yeats in which the two look for signs of the persistence of their favourite motifs and techniques in contemporary Irish literature. It is thus with a degree of calculated anachronism that Deane’s Yeats announces that Muldoon, Derek Mahon, John Montague, and Brian Moore ‘keep up some of our most hallowed traditions. Exile, for instance.’ [Note 2]
      The experience of exile and, even more, the idea of it, were integral to literary modernism from Ezra Pound to Basil Bunting, through the inter-war Americans known as ‘the lost generation’. [Note 3] For Irish writers of this period, expatriation had special attractions. In Paris, Trieste, or the cosmopolitan circuits of diplomacy (to think of Denis Devlin), they could escape the dependency of West Britonism and the claustrophobia of cultural nationalism. Yet being elsewhere was so compatible with Irishness that it could also serve to confirm it. From the Flight of the Earls in 1607, through the continental exile of the eighteenth-century catholic gentry, and the emigration of the peasantry after the Famine, the experience and idea of leaving Ireland had been integral to being Irish.

Photo of Paul Muldoon by Norman McBeath

Photo of Paul Muldoon
by Norman McBeath

Courtesty Frances Sjoberg
Assistant Director
University of Arizona Poetry Center

Most poets would relish being mentioned in the TLS by Yeats, so why is Muldoon so tetchy? In part, no doubt, because of the politics implicit in a list of ‘exiles’ who are — in Deane’s words — ’Northerners all’. Having just objected in The Prince to the success of Northern Irish poetry being cited as ‘proof / that all’s not rotten in the state’ (35), the politically independent Muldoon now resists the insinuation that British rule has driven literature out of the Six Counties — a claim only sustainable by overlooking the many writers from the Republic (Padraic Colum to Eamon Grennan) who have worked in America. Some such impulse motivates ‘I’ve been twice in Fintona’, which makes an Ulster joke about would-be cosmopolitanism [Note 4] while (it may be) signalling an awareness of sectarianism, [Note 5] the better to deny that the poet has been forced, like a victim of the eighteenth-century Penal Laws, into ‘exile’. But if Muldoon primarily objects to being co-opted by Deane’s republicanism, which would blame British misrule for the Irish diaspora, his insistence that he is not ‘in exile’ connects to larger issues of importance to contemporary poetry. I want to touch on them in this essay before I explore some border zones and get into muddles.
      Let me step back for a moment to Deane’s other poetic exiles, Montague and Mahon. The former knows all about Fintona. As he reveals in The Dead Kingdom (1984), it was from that divided town in Tyrone that his maternal uncles went to fight the Black and Tans before joining, with his father, a ‘real lost generation’ [Note 6] of republican exiles who left Ireland after partition. And it was to his mother’s home in Fintona that Montague was painfully not sent, though his brothers were, when she brought most of the family back from New York and sent the poet to be fostered in Garvaghey. In Montague’s haunted lyrics, Fintona links political conflict with childhood losses that go back to the mother’s inability to bond with her child after a difficult birth.
      Yet if Montague seems by virtue of this the epitome of exile, born into dislocation then living between America, Paris, and Cork, his existence and his art have moved beyond the title of his early book Forms of Exile (1958). A few years ago, he described the ‘forlorn note’ of his youth giving way to a more inclusive globalism: ‘My amphibian position between North and South, my natural complicity in three cultures, American, Irish and French, with darts aside to Mexico, India, Italy or Canada, should seem natural enough in the late-twentieth century as man strives to reconcile local allegiances with the absolute necessity of developing a world consciousness to save us from the abyss.’ [Note 7] Younger Irish poets like Thomas McCarthy and Peter Sirr view the partly accidental internationalism of Montague’s career as exemplary. And he has explored what he has called ‘The Complex Fate of being American-Irish’ (1983), [Note 8] protesting at his exclusion from American anthologies. In 1991, he reprinted his most obviously US poems, stories, and essays in a book called Born in Brooklyn and came out as a New York poet.
      Derek Mahon might seem a better candidate for Deane. His Ulster Protestant sense of being abandoned at the edge of empire encouraged him in the Sixties and Seventies to write a poetry of exile. He saw himself as Ovid at Tomis, relegated to a litter-strewn littoral. 1991 was a turning point for him as well as Montague, however, because, as he indicates in The Hudson Letter (1995), that was when he began a transformative stay in America. The spaces of exile filled up, his lines lengthened and relaxed as he went ‘nightshopping like Frank O’Hara ... bopping / up Bleecker for juice, croissants, Perrier, ice-cream / and Gitane filtre’. [Note 9] The old form of deprived, one-way exile is represented in The Hudson Letter by ‘To Mrs Moore at Inishannon’, the verse-epistle of a maidservant writing back to Ireland from New York in 1895. But Bridget is a foil to Mahon’s surprisingly playful acquiescence in the pleasures of popular culture and paradoxes of virtual reality.
      From the outset Mahon was sensitive to the Americanisation of the planet. Now it is as though the erosion of place has gone so far that exile is a hopeless conceit; if all places are interchangeable, with a McDonald’s on every corner, there is no margin left to haunt. Exile was already emptying into a posture in The Hunt by Night (1982). The exile which entailed nostalgia for a lost habitus would now itself be the object of nostalgia (and sometimes tacitly is) were the global village not so entertaining. When Mahon goes back to Dublin in The Yellow Book (1997), it is a trip from one attraction in the First World theme park to another. Home life is glossed by an epigraph from Paul Fussell’s Abroad: ‘One striking post-war phenomenon has been the transformation of numerous countries into pseudo-places whose function is simply to entice tourists’. [Note 10] The Dublin square he lodges in provides scenery for coach tours. The houses have become offices devoted to image-making. With an oddness that is, on reflection, unsurprising, it is in this newly decentred Dublin, where he thought he would be at home, that he recovers something of his earlier exilic and chiliastic vision. [Note 11]

These poets are more than symptoms of the Zeitgeist. Muldoon’s change of address had a creative logic: always interested in American, especially Native American, topics — not surprisingly since the Ireland of his childhood was more Americanised through popular culture than it had been for Montague and Mahon — he saw in Princeton an opportunity to explore this material more fully, or, rather, a chance to satisfy the appetite for new material which follows from his tangential, non-exhaustive methods. (He may also have sensed that his poetry could enjoy greater freedom to develop beyond the Faber norms exploded by Madoc (1990) in a country where Language-type experiment is acceptable to the point of being institutionalised.) Yet the ‘exiles’ listed by Deane all responded to the socio-economic changes that Montague notices in Mount Eagle (1987) when he describes ‘this strange age / of shrinking space’. [Note 12] Mahon for reasons of age but also temperament mostly observes what Muldoon was caught up in even before the younger poet became an American citizen: the changed conditions of the diaspora, given that transatlantic travel is no longer one-way and necessitated by poverty but is an everyday effect of the prosperity of a Celtic tiger that is profiting (however unevenly) from tourism and globalization.
      Muldoon was always interested in travelling around rather than one-way emigration, in transits rather than arrivals. His early ‘Immrama’ notices the potential of junctions, however humdrum (Wigan and Crewe) and renders destinations nugatory (the Brazil where his father never drank with a hypothetical Nazi while failing to reach Argentina). [Note 13] It is characteristic that, in his Clarendon lectures, To Ireland, I (2000) he should invert the Deane-Yeats paradigm and argue that the Irish are in exile in Ireland itself, not just when they are sensitive aesthetes, like the Mahon of The Yellow Book, but generally because of a history of expropriation and insecurity. It is an idea that he finds expressed in AE’s poem ‘Exiles’, where Irish peasants are imagined as supernatural beings dropped into lives of hard labour — a vision of the proximity of faeryland which gives Irish experience, Muldoon says, a liminal aspect. [Note 14] Like the father’s projected emigration in ‘Immrama’, AE’s poem shows the impact on consciousness of a history of dislocation — a history that has arguably prepared the Irish for the rigours of globalized labour markets, and made their venture into the world economy what Fintan O’Toole calls a movement back to the future. [Note 15]
      In Black Hole, Green Card (1994) and The Ex-Isle of Erin (1997) O’Toole plausibly reinterprets the hallowed tradition of exile as Ireland’s long rehearsal for participation in the new world economy. For the last century and a half, he notes, Ireland and the Irish have not coincided: ‘Ireland is something that often happens elsewhere.’  And the history of Ireland as an ‘emerald isle // of choice’ is substantially a product of the elsewheres from which it has been conceived. But if Ireland was for generations something of an illusion, it finally disappeared, according to O’Toole, in the early 1990s — the very period I have been looking at — when levels of education and ease of travel made younger people globally mobile. Ireland joined postmodernity by covering itself in interpretation centres and building the Celtworld ‘experience’ at Tramore. As an experience, however, Ireland could be consumed without leaving America (or Australia or London). O’Toole cites the Tipperary Inn in Montauk: Irish in decor, Irish in atmosphere, and staffed by Irish youngsters who are virtually at home from home. [Note 16]
      To some extent this analysis is familiar. Field Day and Revisionism, at odds in so much else, have stressed that Irishness is a construct; like O’Toole, however, Muldoon is specially alert to the way the ‘emerald isle’ has been produced abroad. Madoc responds to the emergence of Celticism at a time of exploration, plantation, and genocide in North America, by the Irish and by Welsh-speakers as well as the pernicious English. In The Annals of Chile (1994) and even more Hay (1998), Irish experience is inextricably Irish-American and global. As in the work of such anthropologists as James Clifford, roots are less significant than routes, identity is contingent on mobility. [Note 17] In his earlier books preoccupied with Knowing my Place (the title of his first pamphlet, 1971) — though that was never a stable, monocultural, or insular enterprise — Muldoon has increasingly engaged with what Clifford calls translation, the micro-shifts and macro-dislocations of languages and cultures on the move. As you would expect from a Northern Irish poet, however, brought up in a society acutely aware of its violent past, his writing a poetry of transits does not mute his sense of history.

Let me plunge into an example which sheds light on those lines I started with, about the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott being ‘free to buy a ticket to his emerald isle // of choice’. Earlier in The Prince of the Quotidian, Muldoon mentions Shining Brow, his libretto about Frank Lloyd Wright, announcing that he has written lines for Wright’s chef in the style of the ancient bard Amergin (18), a figure credited, in To Ireland, I, with setting a pattern for Irish literature. It can only have confirmed Muldoon’s interest in Wright to have learned that this black chef from Barbados, who burned down the architect’s home, Taliesin, was called Julian Carleton. The nineteenth-century Tyrone writer William Carleton attracts Muldoon (and is associated with Amergin in To Ireland, I) because he was brought up a Catholic but became a Protestant and thus wrote as a boundary-crosser, a double-agent with a compound identity. [Note 18] In Shining Brow, the chef has a speaking role, which would allow the audience to relish his Irish accent when he recites his bardic lines. ‘Can it be / that all the natives of Barbados / speak with an Irish brogue?’ FLW’s lover, Mamah Cheney, asks. [Note 19]
      Black Irish chef roasts Welsh American’s villa. It sounds like a poem by Paul Durcan, a joke designed to mock the Gael-in-exile paradigm harked back to by Seamus Deane. It would be wrong, however, to think of Carleton’s Ur -Irishness as merely parodic. It has behind it a history that began when Oliver Cromwell transported Irish Catholics to Barbados. Carleton has a brogue, in the libretto if not biographical fact, because the ‘barbadoed’ Irish interbred with African slaves and passed on their way of speaking English. Irish intonations can still be heard among the blacks of, for example, Montserrat [Note 20] — a Caribbean destination often called ‘the emerald isle’. To labour a quip that is already tangled, you could say that Derek Walcott is able to fly to ‘his emerald isle // of choice’ not just because he has the money to buy an expensive plane-ticket but because, educated on St Lucia by Irish Redemptorist Brothers, he’s another Irishized West Indian.
     Muldoon’s preoccupation with cultural and racial hybridity of the Carleton sort is well-established, and critics have rightly connected this with the mixed state of Northern Ireland, an entity which is articulated by a contingent and permeable border that can only constitute an edge, or double-edge, by running through the middle of things [Note 21] and creating a zone of transit (lorries with dodgy brakelights carrying even more dodgy cargoes, as in ‘Cows’). [Note 22] You can take the poet out of Armagh, the border county of his childhood, but you can’t take Armagh out of the poet — as Muldoon would expect us to recognise, given his emphasis, in To Ireland, I, on liminality and the Irish imagination. When he writes about borders in America they share the psychological and linguistic ambiguity of the one bred into him. They are also a magnet for Irishness. The libretto, Bandanna (1999), for instance, includes an Irish-American police captain, Cassidy, whose job is to stop illegal immigration across the Texan-Mexican border. Like the Irish border, this ‘zona / media[Note 23] so permeates experience around it that hardly a scene goes by without some new aspect of liminality (perhaps too assiduously) being adduced: the no-man’s-land traversed by immigrants, the social and mortal borders confused by the Day of the Dead fiesta, the past shared by several of the characters who crossed the DMZ in Vietnam, and the ‘eerie zone, a liminal place, a place of “ghostlier demarcations” ‘ (19) in which key sequences are sung.
      The capacity of the Irish border to spur invention about other transit zones is most spectacularly apparent in Muldoon’s most recent book, Vera of Las Vegas (2001). Like Shining Brow and Bandanna, Vera is a libretto, but it continues the tale of intrigue in an IRA active-service unit begun in the drama Six Honest Serving Men (1995). Motives in that play seem unfixed, as one would expect from its location on the border between Armagh and Monaghan. In Vera this instability is translated to Las Vegas airport, where two members of the IRA unit called Taco and  Dumdum who are wary of immigration officials are in transit from New York to LA. Muldoon’s attraction to Las Vegas is in every sense topical. If the Tex-Mex border is a touchstone for geographers and anthropologists because it highlights the micro-transits of globalization, Las Vegas is an equally classic locus of world-shrinking postmodernity: a site of simulacra; Venice, Paris, Caesar’s palace.
      After a prologue which shows Taco being interrogated ‘somewhere in Northern Ireland’, the action begins with the Provos arriving in Las Vegas and announcing that they are in the ‘centre-fold’ of America. [Note 24] It is another version of the middle border which mobilises hybridity. The stage fills up with Pequods wearing sharp suits, plus bows and arrows, and with apparently ancient Romans playing on slot machines. In this eclectic setting, a comedy of errors unfolds. The IRA men have disgraced themselves by getting drunk and pawing the flight attendants. One of them, Doll, has arranged for her old friend Vera to meet the men in Las Vegas and fleece them. Offered an all-expenses stay, Taco and Dumdum take the bait and meet up with the black beauty Vera. The plot thickens with the appearance of a couple of secret service men, Trench and Trilby. It thickens again when Taco gropes Vera and discovers that (as in The Crying Game) she is a he. Like Oscar Wilde’s play Vera, Muldoon’s libretto tells a story of revolutionary conspiracy confused by desire. And the centre of attention, Vera, personifies veracity as flux. Her name is Loman (her Willy is concealed), [Note 25] rhymed with ‘lemon’, ‘dilemna’, and, inevitably, ‘limen’. Her big aria, in fact, puts a border condition in the middle of things:

For I, Vera of Las Vegas, am the Way,
the Truth and the Light. I who seem to be on the
of things am, truth to tell,
at the very centre. ...    (45)

In Quoof (1983) truth was a pebble of quartz, transposed from Frost’s poetry into a Native American’s briefcase, [Note 26] but in Vera ‘truth’s a business that needs a little illusion’ (45), lying in the words of a gender-liminal character in a city that gambles on chance. And so we head into muddles.
      The opera starts with a mistake. The Provos are in Las Vegas because Dumdum (aptly punned) failed to check whether the flight to LA was direct. ‘LAX’, as Taco says, ‘Very lax’ (another pun, on an LA airport), but all too human (1-2). Later Dumdum reminds Taco how Dessie Gillespie was shot ‘On the road between Killyhevlin / and Swanlinbar’, but Taco (who did the shooting) says it was ‘Glangevlin’ (49-50). What is it about these muddles? In an earlier, unpublished version of the libretto, after Vera remembers that her uncle was shot for stealing a pineapple, Doll calls Trench and Trilby ‘the very pineapple of politeness’, and her echo of Mrs Malaprop (who coined this error, meaning ‘pinnacle’ not ‘pineapple’) [Note 27] is given ‘a round of applause’. [Note 28] The draft ends with a pineapple being produced from a manila envelope and being identified as the source of a dangerous ticking.
      On his way to finishing Vera, then, Muldoon got too obviously interested in the links between indeterminacy and error, and in the lines of confusion that run from practical blunders into verbal inaccuracies which have explosive potential. Similar developments can be found in Bandanna, which, as I implied, shows a new seriousness about the liminal. It counts the cost of middle or muddle zones and the errors they encourage. Spurred by the rivalries and duplicities associated with control of the Tex-Mex border, the police chief Morales (too much his name) is deceived by a given-away bandanna into believing, like Othello, that his wife is having an affair with Cassidy (Cassio), and he murders her — a crime which is the more understandable given Mona’s ‘mistake’-creating [Note 29] fling with someone called ... Limón.
      A related seriousness characterises Hay. Its opening poem, ‘The Mud Room’, for instance — the title of which invokes the anterooms of American houses (where coats and muddy boots are left) but also the Multiple User Domains or Dungeons of the internet (virtual spaces in which users game and role-play under assumed identities), while punning on ‘mid’, ‘muddle’ and ‘Muldoon’ [Note 30] — is a rangingly inclusive piece about lines that run in medias res. Existentially this makes sense. If you find your way by cleaving to the liminal, borders will become your path, and Muldoon diagnoses his own self-dissolving, elusive condition — a common pursuit in his lectures — when, in To Ireland, I, he calls the Irish modernist Brian Coffey ‘a poet intent on walking the fine, liminal-narthecal line between continuity and discontinuity, location and dislocation’ (27). In ‘The Mud Room’, the middle-aged poet is trying to get to the fridge in the ante-room of his house, an extended narthex which allows for transits between the home and the world but which also fills with junk that can be read as an information glut or archive of life.
      Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Mud Vision’ is a poem about the world media coming to Ireland to watch its people glimpse but then dissipate a possible future, a consummation of the national(ist) struggle. [Note 31] The virtuality it describes is that of religious vision and its cultural geography is recognisably Irish. ‘The Mud Room’ at once domesticates and globalizes those parameters, finding in the home a world wide web of clutter. Thoroughly post-O’Toole, Muldoon’s indoor transits leave no room in the world for exile. Global consumerism and cheap tourism bring together half a wheel of Morbier cheese from the Jura with a bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce — presumably picked up in New Jersey, though there are poems in Hay about visiting Japan — plus a horsehair blanket that is said to have been purchased in Bogotá and then (but hey, travellers make mistakes) in Valparaíso. This eclecticism is more largely matched by the range of poetic forms collected for use in Hay: haiku, Persian ghazal, Malayan pantun, and so on.
      Muldoon gets to the fridge by following an imaginary goat (he is capricious) along a narrow path. Suggested by the line of ash that runs through a Morbier cheese, separating yet joining curds made from morning and evening milk, this path is coloured by the conflicts that are compounded rather than contained by the Northern Irish border. It is called, for instance, a ‘blue-green fault [Note the colours of the RUC and Irish nationalism] / between the clabber [Note Gaelic word] of morn and the stalwart [Note like a loyalist] even-clabber’. [Note 32] But it also signifies, through and beyond that, the muddles, the mistakes, the brangles — to use a Hay word — that run through the poet’s mid-life (hence half a cheese). Does the middle-transit have to be a muddle? The sequence that ends Hay, ‘The Bangle (Slight Return)’, is introduced by an epigraph which muses on the ‘pure possibility’, the ‘unrealized plenitude’, of not being born. But it later quotes ‘unreal- // ized plenitude’ across a stanza-break (130) to point up the unreal-ity of such a pure condition, preferring a life embraced flaws and all. ‘Princess of Accutane’, as the poet of Hay urges his wife, ‘let’s no more try to refine / the pure drop from the dross’. [Note 33]
      The moral would be trite if it simply counselled acceptance. But Muldoon has always relished the fussy, approximating qualifications that go along with a respect for accuracy, and Hay is elaborately interested in correcting mistakes. Its title-poem, in fact, describes meeting

another beat-up Volvo
carrying a load

of hay. (More accurately, a bale of lucerne
on the roof rack,
a bale of lucerne or fescue or alfalfa.)    (52)

So the poem is less about hay than the receding subvarieties thereof, and the book is named inter alia after an inaccuracy corrected by honest doubts. [Note 34] Meanwhile, ‘The Point’ assures us that O’Clery rammed his pencil into the schoolboy Muldoon’s ‘thigh / (not, as the chronicles have it, my calf)’. We are told that ‘the Japanese nightingale’s not a nightingale / but a Persian bulbul’. More alphabetically a fawn wants to correct ‘Pleaides’ to ‘Perseids’, and the poet’s father insists that he is from ‘Killeeshill’ not ‘Killeter’. [Note 35]
      Mistake-correcting structures of the ‘not x’ variety go back to Muldoon’s earliest full-length book, New Weather, [Note 36] but the textual bibliographical note that emerges in Madoc’s ‘Not “CROATAN”, not “CROATOAN”, but “CROTONA”’ (258) is often struck in Hay. There are clues here to quite large changes — beyond the modally and syntactically elusive, but in terms of diction simple, manner of such lyrics as ‘Blemish’ (in Mules), and the more promiscuous, dynamic idiom of ‘The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants’ (Quoof), into a style that can in parts of The Annals and Hay seem lexically fixated, designed to foreground a highly eclectic, even contaminated or damaged vocabulary. This does not necessarily imply a divorce between poetry and the conditions of life. Once keen to use verbal glissades and recurrent, slowly distorted names to extend and interconnect meanings, [Note 37] Muldoon has become attentive to literals as human lapses, to morphology as a site of muddle. By niggling at such mistakes he can grapple with the tacitly existential claim, quoted in ‘Now, Now’, ‘that life is indeed no more than “a misprint / in the sentence of death”’. [Note 38]
      In Shining Brow Carleton’s Irish brogue contributes to a particularly rich confusion. Addressing Mamah Cheney he calls her ‘Ma’am’ and is rebuked for using her first name, pronounced May -mah — a peculiarity announced, in an earlier, parallel episode, where Wright himself calls her ‘Mah-mah’ (62, 5). It is the mother (mama) complex writ slant, not for the last time in the libretto — a perplexity that matters to Muldoon, who lost his mother to cancer and who has taken a long time to forgive himself, if he has, for the strained relations recorded in the long poem that ends The Annals of Chile, ‘Yarrow’. Whatever its implications for the capital-m Muldoon, M-m is heavily worked in the oeuvre. In Bandanna an M drops off the backwards neon sign of the Motel where Morales kills Mona. In Annals, the poem ‘Milkweed and Monarch’ describes and enacts a confusion which makes the poet ‘mistake’ his mother’s name ‘Regan’ for its anagram ‘Anger’. And in ‘Yarrow’, the mother’s malapropristic tendencies contribute to the muddle which almost leads the young Muldoon to order ‘yarrow’ rather than ‘marrow’ seed.
      The significance of such confusions is explored in To Ireland, I with reference to the bard Amergin whose style Carleton matches in the opera. Muldoon starts this book by quoting an alphabet poem by Amergin in a celebrated translation that crosses the old Irish verse with lines attributed to the Welsh bard Taliesin (who gave his name to Frank Lloyd Wright’s house). Picking out the line ‘I am the grave: of every hope’, Muldoon detects an autobiographical signature: ‘The “grave” in the last line of that translation gives a clue to its provenance. This version of the poem is offered by Robert Graves’ (4). The suggestion is bizarre, that Graves would write himself in in such a way, however Muldoon might graft himself into ‘Motel’ — or rather, since the sign is reversed, ‘letoM’, which, when it loses its ‘M’ becomes ‘leto’, a goddess important to Muldoon, [Note 39] and if it is scrabbled reveals ‘le Mot’, the word, lexis itself. It is, though, consistent with a procedure which Muddledoon finds in Amergin (as later in Joyce). The Irish poem shows ‘an urge’, he says,

towards what Graves called the ‘esoteric’ or ‘pied’. I assume he’s using the word ‘pied’ in the sense given by the OED of a ‘mass of type mingled indiscriminately or in confusion, such as results from the breaking down of a forme of type’. That’s to say, the urge towards the cryptic, the encoded, the runic, the virtually unintelligible. [Note 40]

Muldoon will later point out — as though with the Las Vegas IRA in mind — that ‘pied’ words flourish among clandestine cells, secret societies (103). But he more immediately and elaborately sees the poet as the agent of the ‘pied’, translating and muddling language, producing hybrid formations, especially as they shift between cultural zones. Words such as the Irish ‘boreen’ that have been smuggled into English without the sanction of the OED, like ‘emphysemantiphon’ and ‘Oscaraboscarabinary’ — both, like ‘boreen’, used in ‘Cows’, that poem about illicit Irish border-traffic, and both grafts of Muldoon’s own invention: almost-private language, like the family word for hot-water bottle that is the title of the title-poem of Quoof. The near intelligibilities of later Muldoon — ‘again I heard Oglalagalagool’s / cackackle-Kiowas’ and the like, and the problems of enunciation which overextend the middle of such terms as ‘emmmmmmmmmmmmphasize’ and disrupt the beginning of such words as ‘al-al-al-al-aleatory’ (an instance I’ll return to), [Note 41] cannot be rationalised under a single umbrella doctrine (this is not the sort of Language poetry which hopes to bring down capitalism by subverting the signifier), but they have much to do with the liminalising Amergin impulse to garble and encode.
      Aware of the human cost of mistakes, Muldoon does not muddle words without a sense of potential damage. When he talks in To Ireland, I of ‘the slip and slop of language, a disregard for the line between sense and nonsense’ (107) we can think from the mother’s malapropisms in ‘Yarrow’ to her destructively censorious attitude to minor slips in behaviour:

Mother o’mine. Mother o’mine. That silver-haired mother o’mine.
With what conviction did she hold
that a single lapse — from lapsus, a slip

or stumble — would have a body cast
into the outer dark.    (89)

The archly laboured translation of lapsus is calculated to underline ‘slip’, a word which figures so variously in ‘Yarrow’ that it scarcely needs the cue of To Ireland, I for its importance to be noted.
      The order for seeds, for example, was recorded on a ‘slip’, kept by the poet in a quiver reserved for the arrows that marrows and yarrows have in common:

It was thirty years till I reached back for the quiver
in which I’d hidden the carbon-slip
from Tohill’s of the Moy: ...     (137)

In the days before xerox machines, a carbon copy was the best way of replicating a piece of writing. But the ‘slip’ on which the carbon did its copying is here the scene or slur of a shift — ‘marrow’ becoming ‘yarrow’. The lapsus that seems to be manifest in more than the name of this paper can ‘slip’ into meaning ‘mistake’, and in other uses — the ‘slip // of a girl’, for instance, who comes to the poet in a dream that his mother could hardly approve (104) — it contributes to what will become an obsession in ‘Yarrow’ with mistakes. This impacts on verse-style, blocking a frequently frustrated flow of recollection. When he writes about his mother’s cancer, or as it may be Sylvia Plath, the poet gets things wrong, he slips, and has to correct:

‘Ovarian,’ did I write? Uterine.
Salah-ed-din would slice through in his De Havilland Mosquito.
‘American,’ did I write? British.    (177)

      In Hay the topic is signalled by ‘Errata’, a list-poem which makes hay with blunders and typos. For readers much of the fun lies in working out how the mistakes were made, whether they can be found in Muldoon’s own work, and whether they were mistakes when written or have subsequently become so (‘For “married” read “marred”’?), but the poem stirs larger thoughts — which resonate through The Annals and Hay — about whether poetry has a privileged ability to put mistakes right, to achieve one of the effects that Heaney calls redress. [Note 42] ‘Errata’ is alert to the expressive, Joycean side of mistakes, and to the psychoanalytical view of them as cryptically loaded. [Note 43] Yet it is also comically aware that, as psychologists of error tell us, many mistakes are reversions to the norm in contexts that do not require it, [Note 44] are tricks of the usual rather than manifestations of the repressed. If errata, from this perspective, lose something of the impacted significance claimed for them by Freud, they remain poetic in their ability to register the complex implication of speaker and situation in statement: as one psychologist writes, ‘Slips are exquisitely sensitive to the many factors that shape normal speech and action.’ [Note 45] Meanwhile ‘Errata’ stirs thought about the relationship between rhyming and error. Since errors often rhyme, is the rhyming mind prone to error — Plato might assent — and poetry a medium of mistakes? And thus the poem begins:

For ‘Antrim’ read ‘Armagh’.
For ‘mother’ read ‘other’.
For ‘harm’ read ‘farm’.
For ‘feather’ read ‘father’.

      No alert reader of Muldoon could get even this far and think the poem simple, however slight. While the first line flags the substantial differences between almost adjacent places, it also raises the possibility that the poet’s border obsessions might throw errata into reverse and make him mistakenly correct what is for him the less familiar reading. And all the lines in the poem, in fact, are capable of being read as invitations to introduce as well as remove mistakes, which consequently become alternatives. Certainly, ‘mother’ emended to ‘other’, and through that rhymed with ‘father’, around the ‘harm’ of trying to run a ‘farm’, uses the same keywords as, and concentrates the psychodrama of, ‘Milkweed and Monarch’ and much of the stuff of The Annals of Chile.

For ‘Moncrieff’ read ‘Monteith’. [Note 46]
For ‘Béal Fierste’ read ‘Béal Feirste’.
For ‘brave’ read ‘grave’.

— wicked irony, that —

For ‘revered’ read ‘reversed’.

For ‘married’ read ‘marred’.
For ‘pull’ read ‘pall’.
For ‘ban’ read ‘bar’.
For ‘smell’ read ‘small’.

‘Errata’ does go on. Is there no end to error? It is a difficult poem to read aloud, syntactically inert after a text like ‘The Mud Room’ and entirely, if apologetically, imperative. It might be related to Hay’s experiments with concrete poetry, in ‘The Plot’ and ‘A Half-Door near Cluny’, where language is more seen than heard (though both frame interlingual puns). ‘Errata’ is obviously not so pictorial, and it makes an issue of rhyme, but it still presents language as writing — a foregrounding of écriture paradoxically achieved by reinscribing the apparatus of determinate reading — because an ‘Errata’ list is an index to a printed text, an invitation to cross words or just letters out and write others in.
      One thought raised is whether all errors matter, except to Muldoon’s mother. To reverse the ‘ei’ in ‘Feirste’ wouldn’t strictly mislead, and in most cases, presumably, we’d notice that ‘smell’ should be ‘small’ without having the error pointed out. But then, degrees of context matter acutely to errata. Typos are seen as such only in the setting of a word, so that ‘Errata’ of the ‘Fierste’ variety make one recognise that, as Louis Zukofsky put it, ‘each word is itself an arrangement’. [Note 47] And words are shown to be — strictly speaking, are made — erroneous by the environments in which they are arranged. In some settings, for sure, ‘smell’ is not a small mistake, and because such settings are never merely textual, ‘small’ errors can say much about the cultures that produce them. Thus scale can be misleading. Extensive mistakes may hardly count (as when the entire first edition of New Weather was misprinted in italics), but literals can be crucial in a conflicted society like Northern Ireland which fetishes minor differences. In ‘Yarrow’, for instance, the distinction between republican and loyalist manifestations of one figure come down to an ‘i’, a letter designed not to spell a word but to show how it is pronounced (Teagues and Prods, we remember, say haitch and ’aitch differently — so the literal is ultimately theological):

not Milady Clark, who helped the U.D.A.
run a shipment of Aramis
into Kilkeel

but Milady Clarik, whose great-great-grandfather led the I.R.B.
invasion of Canada ...     (85)

      ‘Errata’ goes on and on:

For ‘spike’ read ‘spoke’.
For ‘lost’ read ‘last’.
For ‘Steinbeck’ read ‘Steenbeck’.
For ‘ludic’ read ‘lucid’.

‘Lucid’ could be Muldoon’s reply to those critics who have accused him of postmodern frivolity, or a declaration of what has happened to his style, after the extravagances of Madoc and The Annals, in Hay. ‘For “religion” read “region”.’  How true of Ireland. ‘For “ode” read “code”.’  Amergin rides again. ‘For “Jane” read “Jean”’ — the name of Muldoon’s wife, whatever about Jane. ‘For “rod” read “road”’, though apparently not ‘road’ for ‘read’. And so it goes, to ‘For “loom” read “bloom”’, which takes us back to the question, is there no end of error?, because the text just stops, on an alternate para-rhyme but with no demonstrable conclusion.
      ‘Errata’ raises the topic of rhyme not simply because it happens to be written in rhymed and half-rhymed quatrains, nor because the listed mistakes would in many cases pass as rhymes in a Muldoon poem, but because, in consequence, the corrections at the end of lines might be corrections of each other (‘For “other” read “father”. For “pall” read “small”’). This up-and-down, criss-cross interaction (like scanning ‘The Plot’ and ‘A Half-Door’ again) [Note 48] works because Muldoon’s rhymes are usually oblique. As ‘The Mud Room’ beautifully demonstrates, para-rhyme is a valuable resource in a poetry of transits because it maximises the possibilities of movement, increases the number of end-of-line options for semantic detours. In their mixed literals the rhymes are like the blue-green conjunctions of a border which constitutes a path. Especially since, in Hay, para-rhyme words are often macaronic, nodes of transit in themselves between cultures.
      At this point one might think of rhymes as more largely a border language, markers of limits which are in the thick of things. They are at the edge of the poem, but of course their consequences, or prequences, knock back into the line and determine much about it: the rhyme-word that you head for shapes how you get there, just as the conditions of a border tend to define what lies nearer the centre (try Portadown). Like borders, rhymes are zones of muddle, points where words are scrambled and compounded because their acoustic or visual properties force the reader to engage in a double reading, following a poem’s syntax through and noticing how, say, verbs follow distant nouns or which nouns lie behind pronouns at a line-break or enjambing moment, but at the same time requiring a vertical response, up and down the right-hand margin, aware of this other ribbon of meaning (a semantic overdetermination of the border). I take it to be significant that, although Amergin is pronounced ‘A-ver-yin’ in Irish, on a page of more or less English his name is a pied version of a merging or a margin. In ‘The Mud Room’, and most of Hay, that would be an  Amer- (as in Amer-ican) merging.
      On the evocative side of garbling, such poems as ‘The Bangle’ show how rhyme words thicken verse’s border into a muddle. The poet is like an emu lured by verbal gems or bits of tinfoil, placing, mostly at line-ends, words like ‘doodah’, ‘doodlebob’, ‘harum-scarum’, ‘kerplink’ and ‘Conlon Nancarrow’ — a composer of fanatically organised cacophany. [Note 49] It is not to be imagined that Muldoon reaches for these phonetically overplus words because otherwise stuck for a rhyme. He is a master at finding rhymes, and anyway claims so much freedom that he is willing to rhyme ‘English’ with ‘language’. [Note 50] In ‘The Bangle’ we are tantalised with words out at the edge in every sense (edge of poem, of common use, of English verging into other tongues, language turning into nonsense).
      It is the muddle of error, error that embraces mistakes, which interests me more, however, than the lexical petticoat kicked up around the hem of ‘The Bangle’. Consider the ‘Hopewell Haiku’ in Hay: poems about Muldoon’s life near Princeton:

A muddle of mice.
Their shit looks like caraway
but smells like allspice.

From whin-bright Cave Hill
a blackbird might ... will give thanks
with his whin-bright bill.

Perception is enriched in II by homing in on muddle and correcting an initial impression by introducing another sense. III is more virtuosic in relating error to consonance, since the perfect internal rhyme of ‘whin-bright’ with ‘whin-bright’ is strengthened by the middling ‘might’, only for the correction of ‘might’ to ‘will’, which seems to spoil the pattern, to reinforce it by relating the end-rhymes (already de trop in a haiku) ‘Hill’ and ‘bill’. [Note 51] It is a technically subtle instance of muddle and errata producing a harmonious verse.
      Perfect rhymes — i.e. repetitions — of the ‘whin-bright’ sort are intriguing in relation to transits because, although it seems as though they should freeze poems up, not deflect them into innovative swerves, Muldoon destabilises them by means of the up-and-down vertical reading that goes on at the right-hand margin. The explanation is that, whereas para-rhymed words are drawn together in the mind by resemblance, perfect rhyme throws semantic difference into relief, because when you encounter the second usage you still have the first in mind and are thus wrong-footed, mis-take the word — the word, at its most extreme, seeming an error in one position or other. It is a good example of a carbon-slip, of a replication that somehow differs. Then the poem makes you aware that mistakes of this sort are what give life to language, because they prevent the mechanical denotation of one word per thing, and allow bleeding or what Muldoon has called ‘imarrhage’ (haemorrhage, marriage, with a suggestion of immram, or ‘voyaging about’) in poetry. [Note 52] In Hay, ‘Between Takes’, which I won’t stop to unpack, has several lively instances.
      A mistake in poetry confirms that the poet is in control. If there were no evidence of there being room for error then everything in the text would merely be just so, with no sense of the potential slippage between intention and effect — an evolving array of intentions, at least of imputed intentions — that, despite what purists say, is a common and vital part of the experience of reading verse. Where does this leave a poet who writes in his own muddles, creates his own errata? In one direction it squares with the megalomaniac side of Muldoon, who claims full control of the meaning of his poems. [Note 53] To invent his own mistakes is a form of lunatic mimesis of the usual sort of poem in which mistakes will or can always happen (putting Cortez rather than Balbóa silent on that peak in Darien). [Note 54] In practice, however, Muldoon deals with others’ mistakes and his own with a tolerant, though sometimes distressed, humility, willing in verse to intimate that, despite the formal guarantees — the rules of rhyme, or alphabetical order, or sonnet form — that he espouses, there is always the imminence of imperfection. He is aware, as he puts it in an interview, that writing to rigorous schemes (villanelles, sestinas, but now entire sequences and parts of books reproducing the same rhymes) [Note 55] is always ‘very borderline’, and that you can only make breakthroughs by being ‘wedded’ to those constraints [Note 56] — I hardly need point out the resonance of the words he uses there to describe the dynamics of composition, given the ethos of marriage in Hay.
      The humility ought to be there, because the published works of Muldoon are inevitably ‘marred’ by errata. Some are routine typos, [Note 57] but others are more embarrassing, like the ‘Littlebitofbreadandnocheese’ attributed to a hedge-sparrow in Quoof that any reader with a bird-watching past knows to be the call of a yellowhammer. [Note 58] At times it hardly needs psychoanalysis to diagnose conflict. In a section of To Ireland, I that is destined to be cited by many, because calculated to correct the poet’s reputation for keeping politics out of literature, Muldoon notes how Michael Furey, in Joyce’s story ‘The Dead’, was prosaically employed in the gasworks before he died, young and romantic. ‘This “Eriny”’, he writes,

which we shouldn’t fail to miss on this occasion, is yet another device used by Joyce to ensure that ‘The Dead’ is indeed a story of ‘public life’, in which Joyce undercuts the rhetoric of cultural nationalism, revelling in the very thing he repudiates, ... It’s a brilliantly effective way of addressing an issue raised by Gabriel, confronted by Miss Ivors, when ‘he wanted to say that literature was above politics’. Joyce knows that literature is never above politics ...

Muldoon’s identification with the views of Joyce, rather than with those of his character Gabriel Conroy, is hindered as well as helped by the way ‘we shouldn’t fail to miss’ (‘For “miss” read “notice”’) repudiates what it revels in, leaving the reader uncertain how confident the poet is in what he convincingly but he knows simplistically asserts.
      Sometimes error is the result of neglect. The Contents list of the Ecco Selected Poems, for example, calls the book about the hotwater-bottle ‘Quoff’ instead of ‘Quoof’; [Note 59] not, presumably, a page that the author got round to prouf-reading. But then, in my copy of Why Brownlee Left, the line ‘To King Kong on tht Empire State building’ has been reset and the error remains (41) — as though a correction or revision (interestingly entangled motives) had left, or more likely introduced, another. The tendency of correction itself to produce errata is familiar to anyone who has published — anyone who has lived — and Muldoon has some to regret, though one can obviously get too fine-spun. In the Faber page proofs of Hay, for instance, which I was sent to review and never did (an error I’m now trying to put right), when ‘The Mud Room’ describes the horse-hair blanket that muddlingly comes from both ‘Bogotá’ and ‘Valparaiso’, there is an accent only on the former. In the finished edition, ‘Valparaíso’ is hyper-correctly given an accent too. Fine, except that this makes a mistake out of ‘Valparaiso’ in ‘Yarrow’. [Note 60]
      It is worth remembering at this point that Muldoon’s relatively tolerant acceptance of even other people’s errata [Note 61] is not the only possible reaction. Geoffrey Hill provides a clarifying contrast. Long intrigued by the absurd, potential awesomeness of mistakes, [Note 62] he stages, in The Triumph of Love, a punitive comedy of errors in which the self-satirising persona, quoting a music-hall catchphrase, mocks the critical misrepresentation of Hill’s work using the very formula that Muldoon (coincidentally, I’m sure) employs in Hay:

For wordly, read worldly; for in equity, inequity;
for religious read religiose; for distinction
detestation. Take accessible to mean
acceptable, accommodating, openly servile.
Is that right, Missis, or is that right?   I don’t
care what I say, do I?

For iconic priesthood, read worldly pique and ambition.
Change insightfully caring to pruriently intrusive.
Delete chastened and humbled. Insert humiliated.
Interpret slain in the spirit as browbeaten to exhaustion.
For hardness of heart read costly dislike of cant.    (21-2)

Like ‘Errata’ this exploits the paradoxical possibilities of reversal, but to tellingly different effect. At first it looks as though the instability arises from the persona’s toppling over his own sense of being done down; how ‘chastened and humbled’, rather than ‘humiliated’, is someone who has just defensively called himself ‘insightfully caring’? By the last line there has to be a inversion, the anticipated instruction to delete becoming one to substitute; but this is a way of testing readers, of seeing that they are on-side: the poem puts them through the indignity of checking that they know that ‘costly dislike of cant’ should be preferred to ‘hardness of heart’. The reversal-test finely mixes sardonic wit with knowing self-pity, an effect more than matched when Hill — recalling the murder of Cinna the poet by the mob in Julius Caesar, in mistake for Cinna the conspirator — writes, ‘For Cinna the Poet, see under errata’ (38).
      Paul Muldoon’s books usually have thematic and technical preoccupations that extend beyond particular poems. In Hay, the mid-life crisis about mistakes and how endless it would be to correct them is widespread, even structural, and especially prominent in the concluding sonnet sequence, ‘The Bangle (Slight Return)’. This intriguing work crosses an account of the fall of Troy, as described by Virgil, with both a lavish meal in a Paris restaurant which the poet is unable to pay for, and the imaginary voyage, or non-existent exile, of his father and another man to Australia. It is there that we meet, for the first time, the real Hay:

there’s many a slip
twixt what one supposedly determines
and the al-al-al-al-aleatory

where a cow-pony gives up on the slopes
of Mount Isa or the Hay’s meanderings come to mean
nothing on the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory.

It is typical that this philosophical flurry should turn on the idea of a slip, and find a correlative for indeterminacy in the reinforcing disruption of the word ‘aleatory’. Taken pretentiously, the passage says that Muldoon is only in the world as a result of the chance that his father did not go to Australia, but more evocatively it imagines a zone of semantic esemplasticity, where the River Hay’s ‘meanderings’ (with a misprint-style pun on ‘meanings’) come to nothing — as any good map will confirm — on a border which sounds like the one that separates the old Queen’s County in Ireland from the Northern Territory still under the crown (a sort of Antipodean River Moy).
      Whatever one makes of the perplexing narratives of ‘The Bangle (Slight Return)’, in which poetic quality is at times harder to establish than a fascination with lexical muddle, the sequence keeps revisiting Muldoon poems within and previous to Hay, and thus earlier stages of his life, and so revisits errors, some apparently the poet’s. The process explicitly starts with a return to the idiom of ‘Errata’ and an affirmation of the centrality of transatlantic transits to poetry, including that of Heaney — author of ‘The Flight Path’: [Note 63] ‘For “pith” read “flight path”’ (131). Virgil, in fact, emerges, as an epic poet of errata,

‘For “demain”,’ Virgil began to sing
with a rowley-powley gammon,
‘read “de Main”. For “firse” read “frise”. ... ‘     (137)

The sense that everything is up for correction, even correction itself, ushers in a grand final page, which ends up in places which can be found on a map but which seem more literal than geographical:

‘For “errata”,’ Virgil smiled, ‘read “corrigenda”.’      
He looked straight through me to Lysander and Hermia.
‘For “Mathilda” read “Matilda”.

For “lass” read “less”.
Time nor tide wait for a wink
from the aura

of Ailsa Crag. For “Menalaus” read “Menelaus”.
For “dinkum” read “dink”.
For “Wooroonooran”, my darlings, read “Wirra Wirra”.’     (140)

      It could hardly be more apparent that muddles now fascinate Muldoon. But the passage only succeeds because it concludes a book that is frequently much more subtle in its implication of poetry in error. The title of ‘The Bangle (Slight Return)’, for instance, is disturbed by the proximity of that ‘Mud Room’ word ‘brangle’ — is its title, in fact, a typo? [Note 64] — and in ‘BRUCE SPRINGSTEIN: The River’, the shortest transit-poem in Hay, a ‘For x’ substituting-structure is folded into the statement:

So it was I gave up the Oona for the Susquehanna,
the Shannon for the Shenandoah.    (41)

This is a good poem to finish with, because Seamus Deane could say that giving up the Oona sounds like going into exile. Yet the texture of the verse, with its cats-cradle of end and middle half-rhymes, refuses to seal off (as exile must) one place from another. ‘For “Shannon” read “Shenandoah”.’ If the writing attests to a certain weightlessness attendant on mobility, it does so by letting the words keep connections open, by edging into a literal muddle and implying the possibility of mistakes.
      The impulse to see life as a misprint is poetically high-risk. In ‘Yarrow’ and some of Hay it produces lexical congestions that are by no means always alleviated by Muldoon’s long-proven ability to combine uncertainties of perspective with a lyrical lucidity. Beyond the obvious danger that his poetry might be sapped by a species of philological or self-editing pedantry, Muldoon has evidently been tempted to let the idea that life is a muddle become quasi-ideological, an enabling tenet, interesting himself more in the proliferation than the valency of error, and making a record of its ubiquity displace the other kinds of witness and truth-telling that, in parts of The Annals and Hay, he is willing to venture. Yet his pied and self-corrected verse is often humanely accurate about damage and the desire to put it right. In ‘The River’, and much recent work, there is an affecting willingness to acknowledge that even success is impure, muddles through, gives things up, and a correspondingly impressive torque in the literally minute plotting of major life-transits.


[Note 1] The Prince of the Quotidian (Oldcastle: Gallery, 1994), 36.

[Note 2] ‘In the Republic of Letters: A Dialogue between W. B. Yeats and James Joyce on the Occasion of their Reincarnation on the Expiry of Copyright’, Times Literary Supplement, 17 January 1992, 12.

[Note 3] The label was successfully attached by Malcolm Cowley, Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s (1951; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982).

[Note 4] I grateful to Peter McDonald and Edna Longley for clarifying and confirming that, in some parts of Ulster, ‘He’s been twice in Fintona’ is an undercutting, though not uncordial, comment on a person’s pretensions to cosmopolitanism.

[Note 5] On Fintona’s history of anti-Catholic discrimination, see Clair Wills, Reading Paul Muldoon (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1998), 166.

[Note 6] ‘Molly Bawn’, in The Dead Kingdom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 64–5, p. 64.

[Note 7] ‘The Figure in the Cave’, in John Montague, The Figure in the Cave and Other Essays, ed. Antoinette Quinn (Dublin: Lilliput, 1989), 1–19, pp. 18–19.

[Note 8] John Montague, Born in Brooklyn: John Montague’s America, ed. David Lampe (Fredonia, NY: White Pine Press, 1991), 32–6.

[Note 9] ‘Beauty and the Beast’, in The Hudson Letter (Oldcastle: Gallery, 1995), 65–6, p. 65.

[Note 10] ‘Night Thoughts’, in The Yellow Book (Oldcastle: Gallery, 1997), 12–13, p. 12.

[Note 11] This comes through even when, as in ‘America Deserta’, he is looking back to New York. For a trenchant analysis of the aesthetic ideology of exile which Mahon partly inherits from modernism, and which defines itself against tourism — an élitist set of assumptions that sustains some of the strongest writing in The Yellow Book — see Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1996), ch. 1.

[Note 12] ‘She Cries’, in Mount Eagle (Dublin: Gallery, 1988), 48.

[Note 13] Why Brownlee Left (London: Faber, 1980), 23.

[Note 14] To Ireland, I (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 6.

[Note 15] Fintan O’Toole, The Ex-Isle of Erin: Images of a Global Ireland (Dublin: New Island Books, 1997), 134.

[Note 16] Black Hole, Green Card: The Disappearance of Ireland (New Island Books, 1994), 27, 22, 51.

[Note 17] James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).

[Note 18] To Ireland, I, 25.

[Note 19] Shining Brow (London: Faber, 1993), 62 — though the question is one of many passages that did not make it from libretto into Daron Aric Hagen’s opera.

[Note 20] See Peadar Kirby, Ireland and Latin America: Links and Lessons (Blackrock: Trocaire; Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1992), chs 7–8, and Tim Pat Coogan, Wherever Green is Worn: The Story of the Irish Diaspora (London: Hutchinson, 2000), ch. 8, both reporting among other sources the comments of the Montserrat poet E.A. Markham during his term as writer-in-residence at the University of Ulster at Coleraine in 1991. Cf. the illusory Welsh ‘brogue’ detected among the Mandan Indians at Madoc (London: Faber, 1990), 149.

[Note 21] See e.g. ‘The Boundary Commission’, in Why Brownlee Left.

[Note 22] The Annals of Chile (London: Faber, 1994), 33–5.

[Note 23] Bandanna (London: Faber, 1999), 15.

[Note 24] Vera of Las Vegas (Oldcastle: Gallery, 2001), 9–10.

[Note 25] Cf. the protagonist of Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, or come to that, Trench, identified by Vera as Norma Capote (48) — not quite Normal and not a Tru(e)man.

[Note 26] ‘The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants’, in Quoof (London: Faber, 1983), 40–64, p. 40.

[Note 27] The Rivals III.iii.19–20, in Sheridan: Plays, ed. Cecil Price (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975).

[Note 28] I am grateful to Paul Muldoon for permission to cite this informally circulated typescript (fol. 66).

[Note 29] Bandanna, 38.

[Note 30] Hay (London: Faber, 1998), 3–9. ‘The’ is sometimes used in Irish names to claim the headship of a sept or family (very much the poet’s role in this book), making the full quibble ‘The Muldoon’; cf., e.g., ‘The O’Rahilly’, Annals, 84. For related convolutions see ‘a remake of The Hoodlum Priest’ (Muldoon backwards) in ‘The Key’, Madoc, 3–4, p. 3; ‘“Ready when you are, Mr DeMilledoon”’, in ‘BLONDIE: Parallel Lines’, Hay, 40; and the detection of Imram Curaig Máile Dúin in the Christian name of Swift’s Lemuel Gulliver (To Ireland, I, 128).

[Note 31] The Haw Lantern (London: Faber, 1987), 48–9.

[Note 32] Cf. ‘where they wallow in whiskey and bainne clabair’ (a traditional dish of thick, sour milk) and ‘Buy stalwart plants from a stalwart Prod, albeit a dissenter’, in Annals, 39–198, pp. 48, 76.

[Note 33] ‘Long Finish’, 78–81, p. 81.

[Note 34] Cf. the confusion of meadow-plants in the epigraph to ‘Third Epistle to Timothy’, also in Hay, ‘You made some mistake when you intended to favor me with some of the new valuable grass seed ... for what you gave me ... proves mere timothy’.

[Note 35] Hay, 10, 11, 55, 98.

[Note 36] New Weather (London: Faber, 1973), 4.

[Note 37] Cf. John Kerrigan, ‘Ulster Ovids’, in Neil Corcoran, ed., The Chosen Ground: Essays on the Contemporary Poetry of Northern Ireland (Bridgend: Seren, 1992), 237–69, pp. 250–1.

[Note 38] Hay, 23.

[Note 39] Cf. Quoof, 50, Annals, 3–5.

[Note 40] To Ireland, I, 5. On Joyce’s hermetic self-naming see p. 83.

[Note 41] Annals, 181; Madoc, 244; Hay, 124.

[Note 42] See the title-lecture of his The Redress of Poetry (London: Faber, 1995), and contrast Muldoon’s comments in ‘Getting Round: Notes Towards an Ars Poetica’, Essays in Criticism, 48 (1998), 107–28, p. 126.

[Note 43] For a stimulating, psychoanalytically informed discussion of Muldoon’s word-scrambling up to Annals, see Guinn Batten, ‘“He Could Barely Tell One from the Other”: The Borderline Disorders of Paul Muldoon’s Poetry’, South Atlantic Quarterly, 95:1 (Winter 1996), 171–204.

[Note 44] See e.g. James Reason, ‘Lapses of Attention in Everyday Life’, in Raja Parasuraman and D. R. Davies, eds, Varieties of Attention (Orlando, Fla: Academic Press, 1984), 515–49, and numerous other papers, leading to his Human Error (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

[Note 45] Bernard J. Baars, ‘The Many Uses of Error: Twelve Steps to a Unified Framework’, in idem, ed., Experimental Slips and Human Error: Exploring the Architecture of Volition (New York: Plenum, 1992), 3–34, p. 5.

[Note 46] Cf. the ‘one volume of Proust’ in (no doubt) C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s translation that the mother is said to have read in ‘The Mixed Marriage’ (Mules, 42), and the Ulsterman — dedicatee of ‘Burma’ (Hay, 104) — who signed up Muldoon for the Faber list.

[Note 47] Quoted in Bruce Andrews, Paradise and Method: Poetics and Praxis (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1996), 5.

[Note 48] In the former the reader slips through ‘fal’ and ‘alf’ as he or she tracks the not-quite-hay of ‘alfalfa’ both ways around — and the word is circular — ‘alpha’, which is printed at the centre of the text, while ‘blé’ (another crop not hay) is the fragment elevated to a word in the space surrounded by ‘A Half-Door’’s not stable cross-runs of ‘stable’.

[Note 49] Hay, 13–14.

[Note 50] See the title-poem of Quoof, 17.

[Note 51] If the poem is read as a remake of the ninth-century Irish lyric ‘The Blackbird over Belfast Lough’ — Cave Hill overlooks Belfast — quoted with translation in To Ireland, I, 10–11, the correction might be interpreted as a determinedly hopeful response to the Northern Ireland ‘peace process’ of the later 1990s.

[Note 52] ‘Getting Round’, 113; To Ireland, I, 74.

[Note 53] E.g. the interview with Clair Wills (2 June 1987), quoted in her Improprieties: Politics and Sexuality in Northern Irish Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 202, qualified but hardly compromised in ‘Getting Round’, 127.

[Note 54] Keats’s celebrated mistake in his sonnet, ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’.

[Note 55] See Wills, Paul Muldoon, 207–8.

[Note 56] John Redmond, ‘Interview with Paul Muldoon’, Thumbscrew, 4 (Spring 1996), 2–18, p. 3.

[Note 57] E.g. ‘Ellmann’ (correct with two ns) followed by ‘Ellman’, ‘Whitley Strokes’ for Stokes, in To Ireland, I, 26, 53.

[Note 58] ‘The More a Man Has’, 48; cf. Stan Smith, ‘The Acoustics of Rural England’ (Letter), Times Literary Supplement, 25 June 1999, 19.

[Note 59] Selected Poems, 1968–1986 (New York: Ecco, 1987), vi. I am grateful to Dillon Johnston for alerting me to this after I presented a short version of ‘Paul Muldoon’s Transits’ at the Modern Languages Association 116th Annual Convention, Washington D. C., 27–30 December 2000.

[Note 60] Annals, 119. The inconsistency persists in Paul Muldoon, Poems 1968–1998 (London: Faber, 2001), 371, 397.

[Note 61] E.g. Clough’s mistake in naming his Bothie after a Gaelic word for vagina, the 1998 Irish Almanac and Yearbook of Facts in calling C. S. rather than C. Day Lewis ‘father of actor Daniel Day Lewis’; Annals, 62 — see Robindra Kumar Biswas, Arthur Hugh Clough: Towards a Reconstruction (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), 264 — and To Ireland, I, 75.

[Note 62] ‘There are ways of getting absolved for murder’, Hill quotes from G.K. Chesterton, ‘there are no ways of getting absolved for upsetting the soup’ (in his ‘Poetry as “Menace” and “Atonement”’, The Lords of Limit: Essays on Literature and Ideas [Note London: André Deutsch, 1984], 1–18, p. 7. Cf., in the same book of essays, ‘Our Word is Our Bond’, 138–59, e.g. p. 157.)

[Note 63] The Spirit Level (London: Faber, 1996), 22–6.

[Note 64] Cf., earlier in the sequence, the order of ‘ray’s wing braked // on a bed of bockchoy’ (116) followed by ‘ ... “For ‘braked’ read ‘baked’.”...’ (138), not to mention the astray inverted commas which — e.g. four lines below that corrigendum — trouble the Faber text.

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