Anthony Lawrence reviews 'Selected Poems 1968–2014' by Paul Muldoon

Anthony Lawrence reviews 'Selected Poems 1968–2014' by Paul Muldoon

Selected Poems 1968–2014

by Paul Muldoon

Faber Poetry, $34.99 hb, 240 pp, 9780571327959

Paul Muldoon’s friend and mentor, the late Seamus Heaney, once remarked that reading Muldoon was like being in a room with two informants: one a compulsive liar and one who always tells the truth. The trick, Heaney suggested, is ‘trying to formulate a question that will elicit an answer from either one that can be reliably decoded’.

Muldoon’s poems are renowned for their sleight of hand, for saying one thing then offering alternatives to whatever it is that a word or image has provoked. If variety of ideas and theme can make for engaging poetry, Muldoon has made association his own, inimitable domain. For readers new to his work, this can be unsettling. Expecting immediate accessibility and transparency can lead to frustration. One way of negotiating the tricky terrain Muldoon has mapped, often without scale, is to go along for the ride, to enjoy the scenic route with a guide who may or may not be offering a reliable commentary on what’s encountered along the way. Muldoon has been accused of being wilfully obscure, but this is harsh, as it overlooks the poet’s own admission that language can be unpredictable and spontaneous, despite the resulting work being the product of an intense editorial resolve.

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Anthony Lawrence

Anthony Lawrence

Anthony Lawrence has published sixteen books of poems and a novel. His most recent collection is Headwaters (Pitt Street Poetry, 2016). His books and poems have won a number of awards, including the Peter Porter Poetry Prize and the NSW Premier's Award. He lives on the far north coast of New South Wales.

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