Paul Muldoon is a poet I probably wouldn’t have read if he weren’t Irish and even his Irishness wouldn’t have been quite enough reason to make me keep reading after the first couple of poems. They just didn’t grab me at all. But he gave a poetry reading for us when I was a graduate student in Irish Studies at Boston College and afterward I sat next to him at the reception, balancing a plate on my lap and trying not to feel too awkward. What does one say to a poet? I made small talk and think I didn’t embarrass myself too badly; but I’m sure I wasn’t at all memorable. An awkward grad student with nothing interesting to say.
Anyway, hearing him read his work made it come alive. Well, hearing a reading does, you know. So when I read his poetry I’m transported back to that evening, to the magic of his voice reading the lines. And you know I push through a poem I think I’m not going to like and find there’s magic after all.
I couldn’t resist this poem for obvious reasons.
Making the Move
by Paul Muldoon
When Ulysses braved the wine-dark sea
He left his bow with Penelope,
Who would bend for no one but himself.
I edge along the book-shelf,
Past bad Lord Byron, Raymond Chandler,
Howard Hughes; The Hidden Years,
Past Blaise Pascal, who, bound in hide,
Divined the void to his left side:
Such books as one may think one owns
Unloose themselves like stones
And clatter down into this wider gulf
Between myself and my good wife;
A primus stove, a sleeping-bag,
The bow I bought through a cataogue
When I was thirteen or fourteen
That would bend, and break, for anyone,
Its boyish length of maple upon maple
Unseasoned and unsupple.
Were I embarking on that wine-dark sea
I would bring my bow along with me.