Monday, December 10, 2012

Paul Muldoon as Himself

Was lucky enough to take a weekend class with Paul Muldoon at Poets House. Two afternoons of poetry with the man whom the TLS called "the most significant Engish-Language poet born since the Second World War." Right from the beginning of the class he insisted that we don't write our poems, but that our poems write themselves through us. I don't think he meant that in any mystical sense. Rather, in calling us to remove the ego from the writing, he reiterated Eliot's theory of impersonality.

In reading our work, he was very quick at sniffing out not only weaknesses in the poem's language and construction, but also their influences, like Heaney, Bishop and Williams  He thought that the ending of my poem "Eve's Fault" has not sufficiently advanced from its beginning. He is himself a poet of rapid movement, of course.

Many of his remarks were too woven into the discussion to be quoted without lengthy explication of context. The following bon mots stand relatively freely:

"The real poem is to one side of the written poem."

"Imagine each word costs a thousand dollars--now what do you have to say for yourself?"

"You can't write like Lowell without getting into trouble. You can write like Bishop and get out of trouble."

Of a participant's poem: "In a strange way one can't argue with it. Partly it's to do with its incantatory quality. You can't argue with a chant. Yeats says, one may refute Hegel but not a song of sixpence."

"I don't make any distinction between shit and brutality. Abstract, concrete or loose."

"Do you believe in the collective unconscious? You'd better. It believes in you."

And, finally, the words of a truly great poet, "I've been writing this poem the last few days but I don't think I'm fit to write it. I may mess it up."

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