Hay: Poems

Paul Muldoon, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-16831-5

More than two decades ago, Seamus Heaney wrote of his former student Paul Muldoon that his ""hermetic tendency"" can lead him ""into puzzles rather than poems."" Since then, Muldoon has evolved into a kind of anti-Heaney, creating poetic puzzles of daunting erudition and fascinating complexity, while sharpening his teacher's capacious humor into a dazzling wit. If Northern Irish poets are expected to write Wordsworthian lyric verse about their rural childhoods, Muldoon instead composes allusively postmodern, cosmopolitan poetry. Having won Britain's prestigious T.S. Eliot prize for his last collection, The Annals of Chile, Muldoon (who teaches at Princeton) here continues to amaze and bewilder readers in equal measure with his bravura. ""Errata"" consists entirely--in the spirit of Nabokov's Pale Fire--of a proofreader's corrections to a faulty set of galleys: ""For `Steinbeck' read `Steenbeck.'/ For `ludic' read `lucid.'"" Not all of Hay is so stylistically showy. ""Anonymous: Myself and Pangur"" is a faithful translation of an utterly charming 9th-century Irish poem drawing parallels between the craft of the scholar-poet and his white cat: ""Pangur going in for the kill/ with all his customary skill/ while I, sharp-witted, swift, and sure,/ shed light on what had been obscure."" And striking a more demotic note is Muldoon's verse cycle on a series of favorite rock albums, from the Rolling Stones to Nirvana, no less exuberant. As much at home in mainstream pop culture as in the obscure corners of the literary tradition, sharp-witted Muldoon both parodies and honors with panache. (Sept.)