Like Eliot, Muldoon’s after big, apocalyptic vision; unlike Eliot, Muldoon is willing — no, compelled — to clown ... his bawdiness is political ... Like many important poets before him, from John Milton to Tim Rice, Muldoon knows that sinners and villains are more interesting, maybe more human, than self-appointed good guys. Poems, for Muldoon, are occasions to plumb the language for a truth that’s abysmal: as in appalling, and as in deep. It’s clear that underneath the play Muldoon is furious, maybe even terrified, about the state of things.
Very few poets, living or otherwise, can combine high-speed wit, tongue-twisting alliteration and dizzying rhyme with the kind of insight that makes us pause, laugh, remember; feel envious, out of breath, punch-drunk. In Howdie-Skelp, Paul Muldoon summons the ghosts of TS Eliot and Dante to tell stories about our splintered realities, where the wasteland is everywhere and nowhere and Virgil is an immigrant waiter offering overpriced steak tartare. With cheeky poignancy and almost biblical satirical force, Muldoon captures the arrhythmia of our times ... With their elongated lines and expansive forms, often cast in sequences or variations, the poems feed on memories triggered by the news, TV binge-watching, ruins, damsons, or Robert Frost’s apples. They also flirt outrageously with paintings, translating the perverse and macabre into luminous commentaries on our desires and taboos. The book ends with 15 mutating sonnets about the rich absurdity of our pandemic lives and a new state of existential confusion.
... an amalgamation of down-to-earth narrative, surreal images, and elliptical connections. At times, the poet makes the reader feel as if the poems are marvelous word association games being played for high stakes. Muldoon’s poetry, like old age, is not for sissies. His work is filled with riddles and riddled with puns, a verse both suggestive and erudite and strange and dreamlike in its repetitions. He seems to delight in perplexing his readers in the way his countryman James Joyce did ... [Muldoon] shows no sign of slowing down or making things easy for the faint of heart ... offers the kind of slap that great poetry from the likes of William Butler Yeats or Seamus Heaney can produce, the kind of poetry that can make a reader wince with delight ... has the jeweled clarity of Yeats and the playful opaqueness of Joyce, lyrical and earthbound, alternately sliding from Gaelicisms and gobshites to learned allusions and postmodern puzzles. At times, the reader feels himself slipping down a rabbit hole that is similar to territory John Barth might have tunneled in Lost in the Funhouse, burrowing deep into repeated lines and unstated connections that challenge the reader to find a way through the dark ... Some of his poems strike in the prosaic tone of a newspaper article and others with the arcane energy of a guy who is a lot smarter than you’ll ever be. Amid the fast and furious flying puns, the puzzling repetitions, and the baffling connections from one line to another, Muldoon finds a way of holding his reader with the seriousness of his frivolity, with the range of his knowledge and interests ... Muldoon’s poetry encompasses a large world: the Troubles, Viking raids, the Ogham alphabet, Ezra Pound, Florence Nightingale, and cancer cells. His verse is a skelp, a clap, a clip on the ear. It surprises, it dramatizes that each act comes with consequences, and it demands acknowledgment. And it brings us into the present tense.