December 23, 2015
Paul Muldoon —
A Conversation with Verse

The Irish poet and New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon has won the Pulitzer Prize, written for other media from radio to song, and plays in a rock band. He visited us for a magical day at the On Being studios on Loring Park in Minneapolis, including a dinner salon and reading from his work.

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is the Howard G.B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities at Princeton University and is the poetry editor of the The New Yorker. He is the author of 12 major collections of poetry, including Horse Latitudes, Hay, and One Thousand Things Worth Knowing.

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In the Room with Paul Muldoon

From the studios of On Being on Loring Park, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon graced a full house with selected readings from One Thousand Things Worth Knowing and his other volumes of verse. His lilting Irish brogue and mellifluous style will be sure to make you a fan. Listen along while you read his poems!

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Detailed image of a large-scale mural in downtown Minneapolis of folk and rock legend Bob Dylan as painted by the Brazilian artist Kobra. The title of the mural was taken from one of Dylan's best-known lyrics.

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I think that the more one tries to define what poetry is or is not, the further one drifts away from the goal. Poetry is, in that sense, like the elusive cat of quantum mechanics, felt and known to be "around there", but running away as soon as one tries to shine light on it. Far away, for instance, did the cat run, when in the process of trying to entrap it, your guest alluded to music as being learned by immersion, including in shopping malls... I believe that, on the contrary, one learns more about music by immersion in silence, by sitting still, close-by, but not too close... "If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close, On a summer midnight, you can hear the music Of the weak pipe and the little drum..."
As far as the cat of poetry is concerned, I believe that it is never nearer than when the chatter of "this twittering world" is turned off. Poetry shows up more readily when anyone speaks from the heart than when one tries to define what poetry is.
Happy new year and thank you for On-being.

Wonderful. He comes to the conclusion 'We don't know anything', the same conclusion of Socrates on the basis of reason alone. If we had no revelation from God, I agree that we would not know anything ultimately, but God has revealed Himself to us. In addition to what He revealed about Himself, He revealed that he is reasonable, the Logos, so when we reason from a known premise we can draw true conclusions.
Universes - I think he meant galaxies. There is the unprovable ideas of the multiverse but from what I can see it is an attempt to avoid drawing the conclusion of a creator from the exact calibration of our universe by saying that for any set of properties there is a universe that has those properties.

"You told a story about your son driving along on the highway and saying, 'Those lights are like tadpoles.' And we’ve all had that experience..."
"But if you ask an eight-year-old to write a poem, she’ll come up with the tadpoles."

When my daughter was 8 years old, we were in the car while it was raining and she started talking about "walrus teeth." I asked her what she meant by that, and she said the long reflection of the car headlights on the wet pavement reminded her of "walrus' teeth." At 12 she is more visual artist than poet, but we are supporting and encouraging that talent.

I had to listen to that poem about two stones about three times to get it. Did he almost die as a kid from falling on those stones?

In that case, I was improbably raised by two powerlines.

I love Irish poets and writers. I love the statement by the old woman in "Angela's Ashes" to Frankie, who reads to her: "Frankie, Shakespeare, he must be Irish Frankie, he's has to be Irish". There is nothing more... heaven-sent ... than the Irish voice. (C. Hartigan (honorary Irish by marriage)

In this episode Paul and Krista talked about the context around poetry and art in general, and Krista mentioned how when she spent time in East Germany she thought there was a stronger "spirit" of artistic creation (my words, not hers). I was impacted by this because I am the child of two immigrants from the USSR. We moved from Moscow when I was 4, in 1991. My parents grew up in an environment of scarcity -- they had very few basic necessities, and in the 90s, when things got really bad, people didn't have access to the most basic of necessities. They waited in line for hours to get food. Yet, I feel lucky because I grew up in such a rich intellectual, cultural, and artistic tradition. My parents and their friends viewed art (poetry, painting, music, literature) as a matter of survival. It is what got them through an oppressive regime, destitution, and lack of any civil liberties. Soviet immigrants are typically very well-rounded and well-read. They recite poetry together. They play each other music. Some of my parents' most prized possessions are time-worn books (Pushkin, Nabokov, etc.). These were likely contraband or difficult to get editions, because many books were not being published. People who have little need art even more than those who have much -- this is what Paul and Krista hit on that resonated with me so much. It's as if Maslow's hierarchy of needs, where food and shelter are at the bottom, and "existential" or spiritual nurturing are at the top, is completely flipped. I'm reminded of when touring a concentration camp in Germany, I came upon an exhibit of the clandestine artwork created by children. There were teachers in concentration camps who taught children how to draw and paint. What greater proof of the need of art and poetry and spiritual sustenance in times of suffering do we need? My parents and their countrymen had very, very little -- but I am so lucky to have been raised in an home that taught me that some of the best places to go are within pages or a book or between the chords of a song. These memories and sensations last longer than the fleeting satisfaction of material goods and plenty, something we are bombarded with in the U.S.