Saturday, February 14, 2009

The poet Paul Muldoon, of Northern Ireland and New Jersey

I spoke this week with the great Irish poet Paul Muldoon, whose epic poem "Incantata" we are scoring. And I may indeed call him a great Irish poet, having now clarified the matter with the man himself.

For, daft as it might sound, I actually called Muldoon to ask if it were all right that we classify him as "an Irish poet," for our planning purposes. I know full well, for he told me and his poetry bleeds with it, that he is from Northern Ireland. However, I also know that he has lived since 1987 in the U.S. and is happily ensconced at Princeton University.

Princeton, New Jersey is not Northern Ireland, a fact that will not have escaped the poet's notice.

Paul Muldoon is both a poet's poet and a regular dude with a winning way of sidestepping hoopla, though he appears on a regular basis in the world's best newspapers, has won a Pulitzer Prize (2003), and is almost certain to take home a Nobel Prize in literature one year before long (home to New Jersey, I am predicting, rather than Northern Ireland).

I am fortunate to know Muldoon through mutual friends at Princeton, rather than as fanboy to a fabulous and great poet. At times, I have the scuttlebutt on him that mutual friends retail about one another, which tend to be about humble and human things, often with a twinkle in the eye that radiates a shared knowledge of human foible.

So, I wasn't surprised at all when Muldoon told me, in effect, "Jeez, Chris, I don't mind how you classify me, either way should be fine, I'd think." At which point, I explained he would be going down in our planning as an Irish poet.

What's it to us? Well, Poetry Scores tries to alternate, year by year, between an international poet and a poet from the U.S. We have been sticking to this plan, so far. We have scored, in order: Leo Connellan (U.S.); Ece Ayhan, trans. Murat Nemet-Nejat (both Turkish, though Murat now lives in New Jersey - Hoboken - like Muldoon); Stefene Russell (U.S.); and, this year, Les Murray (Australia).

Next year we come back to the U.S. for David Clewell (Jack Ruby's America), who has lived and worked for many years in St. Louis, but who hails from ... pattern emerging, here ... New Jersey!
The question, then, is: where do we go from there? Back overseas, somewhere. Northern Ireland and Paul Muldoon is not the only option, mind you. We also have recorded our own Stefene Russell reading an epic Polish poem about the Warsaw Uprising, Building the Barricade by Anna Swirszczynska, and I have my eye on a Japanese poem by Shiraishi Kazuko.

But, once we have Les Murray and The Sydney Highrise Variations in the can, I should like to get to Paul Muldoon as soon as possible. We already have recorded him reading "Incantata" (thanks to the labors of Roy Francis Kasten), it is one of the greatest poems in our language (as Michael Shannon Friedman agrees), and either Paul or Les will win the Nobel Prize for literature in our lifetimes; possibly both will.

Like Les and Paul (Les ... and Paul ... Les Paul!), I don't care that much about fancy awards. But I am fiercely proud of my fancy friends, and I can't tell you how much I would like for this nobody arts organization in St. Louis with no funding outside of what we can scrape together from our benefits to have made recordings with the active participation of a Noble laureate. Maybe two!

(I also once knew 1986 Noble laureate for literature Wole Soyinka, from activist days. We were up to our necks in some dangerous stuff together - I'll let it come out in some memoir of his, first, since his involvement is not yet a public record, as far as I can tell, and he deserves to take credit for some courageous risks he took in Nigeria long after he had been lionized in the white man's world. Come to think of it, let's put a Wole Soyina poem on the to-be-scored list! Why settle for two Nobel laureates when three are within reach?)

Free mp3

(Paul Muldoon)
Performed by Paul Muldoon
Produced by Chris King
Recorded by Roy Kasten

Note: this readings is long - longer than 25 minutes.

Also: we agreed there is a flub somewhere in the first few verses, which we went back and re-recorded, but this is just the first unedited take.


Photograph of Paul Muldoon with the late Warren Zevon from the part of Muldoon's site devoted to his music. Paul is an avid rock music fan, plays guitar in a band called Rackett, and cowrote the song "My Ride's Here" with Zevon for Zevon's 2002 record of that name.

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