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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


Paul Muldoon

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Madoc

Title: Madoc
Author: Paul Muldoon
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1990
Length: 261 pages
Availability: Madoc - US
also in: Poems 1968-1998 - US
Madoc - UK
also in: Poems 1968-1998 - UK
  • A Mystery
  • Also included in Poems 1968-1998 (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

A- : a very unusual, but frequently entertaining collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Rev. of Books B- 30/5/1991 John Banville
The NY Times Book Rev. A 28/7/1991 Lucy McDiarmid
Poetry . 5/1992 Thomas M. Disch
Southern Hum. Review . Spring/1993 Paul Jones
The Village Voice A 30/7/1991 Geoffrey Stokes

  Review Consensus:

  All love the short poems, opinions split regarding the main piece, with some arguing its complexity gets out of hand.

  From the Reviews:
  • "I cannot help feeling that this time (Muldoon) has gone too far -- so far, at least, that I can hardly make him out at all, off there in the distance, dancing by himself. Yes, art should be resistant, poetry should hold back something of its essential self. The trouble is, Madoc demands that the reader work in ways that seem inappropriate to the occasion: one pictures work details of Ph.D. students already setting to, tracking down the references, preparing glosses, grinding keys. (...) Madoc (...) is a little too playful in its profundities, and many of its jokes are weighed down with leaden solemnity." - John Banville, The New York Review of Books

  • "Mr. Muldoon's Madoc is sui generis, his own exuberant genre. (...) The dizzying quantity of proper names, quotations, allusions and historical data requires time to assimilate, and may distract a reader from appreciating the remarkable couplets, sonnets and other verse forms through which Mr. Muldoon tells his story." - Lucy McDiarmid, The New York Times Book Review

  • "It is quite funny, very difficult, hugely ambitious, more than a little unsettling, and is subtitled "A Mystery". Which it surely is." - Geoffrey Stokes, The Village Voice

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Madoc consists of two parts. In the first there are seven short poems, a brief survey of Muldoon's shorter work. The second part, covering some 250 pages, is one long poem: Madoc - A Mystery
       Though the first poem is promisingly titled The Key (and suggests some clues), Muldoon does not make it so simple for his readers. Madoc is an ambitious mystery. It consists of a cycle of many short poems (some only a single line in length, almost none more than a page), each headed by the name of a philosopher or thinker (in square brackets, remaining parenthetical), proceeding in vaguely historical order from the presocratic Thales and Anaximander all the way to Kristeva and Hawking. The "story" itself -- the mystery ? -- concerns the attempt by the poets Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to establish an ideal state in America -- a plan they actually had, ca. 1800.
       Complications abound regarding the appreciation of the work, beginning with the general unfamiliarity with Southey and his work, as well as the fact that Muldoon does not narrate or hypothesize in a very straightforward manner. There is some design to the poem, as witnessed by the relatively chronological progression of the thinkers associated with each verse, and the story itself (of the poets' efforts to establish their state) also proceeds through the verses. There is also some connection between the thinkers and the actual poems, though often this is tenuous at best, and occasionally too obscure to readily determine.
       Mixing historical fact and utter fiction (as Muldoon imagines the failure of the utopian experiment), and quoting extensively from contemporary sources (Coleridge, Southey, Lewis and Clark), Muldoon has fashioned a multilayered work with many surprising connections.
       Muldoon is certainly clever, and much of the pleasure of the poem is in the cleverness of the connections Muldoon makes. It is an artful design he has come up with, and there is fun to be had in trying to make heads or tails out of it. Muldoon also gets to play with language, and many of the verses he comes up with for specific philosophers and thinkers are, indeed, inspired.
       The book can leave one bemused and sometimes baffled, but it is an enjoyable read and worth careful study. A sustained effort that rarely flags, Madoc is one of Muldoon's finest achievements.

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Madoc: Paul Muldoon: Other books by Paul Muldoon under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Peter Ackroyd suggests another poetic trip abroad that never happened in Milton in America
  • See Index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       (Northern) Irish poet Paul Muldoon was born in 1951. He has written several collections of poetry and opera libretti. He has become a citizen of the United States and currently teaches at Princeton University and at Oxford.

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