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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 4: ‘Slight Return’: Place, Music and Nostalgia


Chapter 4 ‘Slight Return’: Place, Music and Nostalgia Introduction In 1994, Paul Muldoon had just attended the first production of the opera Shining Brow by the composer Daron Aric Hagen, for which he wrote the libretto (published in 1993). In an interview that same year, Lynn Keller asked the poet about how the experience of composing words for music had influenced his poetry: Q. Do you think you see [the libretto’s] effect on things you’ve written subsequently? A. I do – it’s quite incredible. The poems I’ve been writing since have been influenced in a strange way; I still haven’t quite broken free of the mold of it. […] One of the things I’ve been working on is a very complex poem involving nine or ten intercut exploded sestinas. It uses repetition in a way that wouldn’t have occurred to me before Shining Brow. There’s something about the way repetition is used in this opera that has interested me, and has continued to interest me.1 The idea of repetition, and repetition as a stylistic device, was not exactly new to Muldoon, of course, and the preceding chapters have demonstrated how it has also informed his poetics of place well before the mid-1990s. However with the poet’s writing of words for music this aspect of his work assumed a new energy. The musical engagements have extended from opera to traditional and popular music, and from thematic and cultural aspects to formal and stylistic ‘musicality’ of poetic language itself. Sound and acoustic patterning are...

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