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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Moy Sand and Gravel: Poems » User review

Solid collection best read after his previous three volumes

  • Apr 11, 2005
My rating does not mean this is average poetic work, only that by comparison to his last three collections, it less frequently reaches their daunting and rarified heights. It's actually a better place to start reading the "later" Muldoon, in fact. Domesticity has tamed a bit of the bravura evident in the arcane lore dazzling the other collections perhaps too much. Poems here like "Unapproved Road," mixing Taureg with IRA in its 1950s failed "border campaign," wittily contrast in a way that Muldoon warms to more and more as his work confronts his own hyphenating midlife identity into an American as much as an Irish poet. "Guns & Butter," "Whitethorns," "A Brief Course on Decommissioning" address the post-1998 events in the North of Ireland intelligently and without pandering. His children and wife now enter his work to round it out more vividly, and at least some of the shorter poems here continue the clarity sought in "Hay"'s briefer verses.

The reason this collection loses a star is the last poem, as usual in his work a longer one: "At the Sign of the Black Horse." The Irish navvy-Jewish mogul undercurrent never convinces, but seems layered over the parental concerns. Where Muldoon often swerves to avoid obstacles, here he seems to plow ahead, but ends up floundering a bit when taking more time to expand and concentrate his direction would've made for a better poetic quest into a very deserving subject of culture clash.

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John L. Murphy ()
Ranked #48
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica.      … more
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About this book


This first full volume since Muldoon's monumental Poems 1968-1998 reveals one of the English-speaking world's most acclaimed poets still at the top of his slippery, virtuosic game. Born in Northern Ireland, for more than a decade Muldoon has lived, taught and raised a family in Princeton, N.J. Hay (1998) showed Muldoon incorporating his wife's Jewish-American heritage, and his life as a father, into a poetics previously noted for its formal complexity, its shaggy-dog-story narratives, and its interest in Irish history. This substantial collection furthers Hay's subjects. It succeeds with fast-paced poems of suburban observation and whimsical memory in difficult forms: some inherited (terza rima, sestina, tercets, haiku, catechism, Yeats's "Prayer for My Daughter" stanza), others invented (a sonnet, each of whose first 12 lines ends in "draw"). Occasional poems return to the Irish Troubles Muldoon has long, off and on, described: "A Brief Discourse on Decommissioning" explains "you can't make bricks without the straw that breaks the camel's back." The book's most serious poems ground themselves instead in Muldoon's household. "The Stoic" meditates on a miscarriage "our child already lost from view before it had quite come into range," while the long closing poem places Muldoon's young son Asher in a context that combines Irish and Jewish history with Victorian wilderness stories, lines cribbed from Yeats, and Muldoon's own comic postures: "I, the so-called Goy from the Moy." A...
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ISBN-10: 0374214808
ISBN-13: 978-0374214807
Author: Paul Muldoon
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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