Pulitzer prizewinning poet Paul Muldoon—former Oxford Professor of Poetry and poetry editor at the New Yorker from 2007-2017—came to Sewanee last February to receive an honorary degree from the University of the South. While here, Muldoon sat down to speak with Spencer Hupp, assistant editor at the Review and Muldoon’s self-avowed biggest fan.
Their conversation touched on a few of Muldoon’s poems and his work’s relationship to song, youth, embarrassment, and animals. Muldoon’s poems, which elsewhere have been described as creating a bestiary, often circuit the relationship between humanity and the animal kingdom: “We are animals ourselves, after all. We are connected to them. They’re very like us. Some of them are more like us than we would like to think.” Muldoon’s poems also often plow straight (or straight-ish) lines through stony fields of literary and historical associations. Much like in “A Tortoise”—first published in the Review’s Summer 2019 issue and included in the poems from his recently published thirteenth collection of poems, Frolic and Detour—a (not the) tortoise allows for a different way of viewing and thinking about the connections between man, beast, and the history the two inhabit.
Muldoon’s work often occupies the space between stand-up comedy and scientific inquiry. This conversation strikes a similar balance, drawing lineage from such disparate things as John Donne and fruit flies, Warren Zevon and Dindshenchas (lore of places), and put such things in productive play with one another. Or as Muldoon notes in the interview, “When I sit down to write the next poem, there’s absolutely no guarantee that it’s going to work. You don’t really know what it is you have to be able to work on until it sort of is coming into being.”
The Sewanee Review Podcast is recorded in the Ralston Listening Room at the University of the South. It is produced by Hellen Wainaina and edited by Alex Martin with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Copies of Muldoon’s Frolic and Detour can be purchased here.