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‘Slight Return’

Paul Muldoon’s Poetics of Place


Anne Karhio

This volume examines the relationship between poetic language and place in the work of Paul Muldoon. Through a close reading of the formal and stylistic aspects of his poems, the book explores the question of how poetry as an art form can be engaged to map the complex exchanges between language and the material, phenomenal, personal and social dimensions of our sense of place. In particular, it demonstrates how various forms of repetition and return, in language and memory, are crucial to Muldoon’s approach to place and landscape. Each chapter focuses on a specific aspect of the poet’s work: the naming of place; the genre of the long poem; poetry, music and nostalgia; and, finally, the place of poetry in the information age.


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Chapter 1: Mapping the Territory: Muldoon in Critical Context


Chapter 1 Mapping the Territory: Muldoon in Critical Context Introduction Outlining the critical reception of Paul Muldoon in a way that does justice to the diversity of scholarship on his work would be an ambitious task even for a full-length study – and even if limited to the criticism that in some way addresses questions related to place and geographical context in his work. Yet it is possible to distinguish certain approaches in this body of scholarship to demonstrate how the significance of place has been, if not ignored, somewhat patchily explored. The discussion tends to fall within certain established frameworks, including an emphasis on the biographi- cal and historical contexts in Muldoon’s early reception, the prevalence of certain theoretical approaches in literary and cultural studies in the late twentieth-century Irish context, and specific conversations that for a considerable time informed literary audiences’ awareness of poetry from Northern Ireland. Early reviews of Muldoon’s work in particular were, somewhat under- standably, closely tied to the expectations raised by the poets who had already started making a name for themselves and for the poetic culture of Northern Ireland in the 1960s, or what Heather Clark calls the ‘Northern coterie’.1 It was particularly the support and patronage of Seamus Heaney that for many provided a reference point for understanding the work of the younger and seemingly more obscure poet. While this considerably contributed to the securing of an audience for Muldoon’s first collections, 1 Heather Clark, The Ulster Renaissance: Poetry in Belfast, 1962–1972...

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