cover image Maggot


Paul Muldoon, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24 (144p) ISBN 978-0-374-20032-9

Raised in Northern Ireland and long resident in New Jersey, Muldoon (Horse Latitudes) remains one of very few poets who commands broad and deep respect on both sides of the Atlantic. This first full-length outing since he took the poetry editorship at the New Yorker will certainly hold the attention of devotees, and individual poems, as always, shine: sestinas, monorhymed works and especially sonnets (including a fine translation of Baudelaire's "The Albatross" and a diptych entitled "Nope" and "Yup") make Muldoon's acrobatic technique serve his strikingly playful—yet grim—sensibility. As he has throughout his career, the poet explores his "dual role/ as proven escape artist and proven identity switcher": domestic discord, ecodisaster, and the simple fear of death compete to propel these sometimes frightening lines. Yet fans who have defended Muldoon against accusations of frivolity, of complexity for complexity's sake, may have a hard time defending his latest work. Shaggy-dog stories, sequences driven by repetitions, and meta-meta-poetry ("Far too late to inquire/ why a poem had taken a wrong turn") predominate, while the strongest work conveys a barely deflected despair about art itself: "I'm waiting for some lover/ to kick me out of bed," one sonnet muses, "for having acted on a whim// after I've completely lost the thread." (Sept.)