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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Poems 1968-1998

Paul Muldoon

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To purchase Poems 1968-1998

Title: Poems 1968-1998
Author: Paul Muldoon
Genre: Poetry
Written: (2001)
Length: 476 pages
Availability: Poems 1968-1998 - US
Poems 1968-1998 - UK
  • Includes:
    • The Annals of Chile (see also our review)
    • Hay (see also our review)
    • Madoc (see also our review)
    • Meeting the British (see also our review)
    • Mules (see also our review)
    • New Weather (see also our review)
    • Quoof (see also our review)
    • Why Brownlee Left (see also our review)
  • Published 2001

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Our Assessment:

A- : large, varied body of work, conveniently collected

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 4/6/2001 Lachlan Mackinnon
The Guardian A 16/6/2001 Stephen Romer
New Statesman . 11/6/2001 Adam Newey
The NY Rev. of Books . 25/9/2003 Mark Ford
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 10/6/2001 Richard Eder
The Sunday Times A- 22/7/2001 Alan Brownjohn
The Times B 9/5/2001 Robert Nye
Wall St. Journal . 13/4/2001 Ben Downing

  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, though many very impressed.

  From the Reviews:
  • "New Weather (1973) ended with an exploded sonnet sequence. Since then, each volume has ended with a long poem picking up, adapting and greatly adding to material from the shorter poems preceding it. Each book becomes a unit, and no poem is fully grasped alone. Since Muldoon moved to America in 1987, his longer poems have become steadily more ambitious." - Lachlan Mackinnon, Daily Telegraph

  • "Muldoon has enfranchised a whole generation of poets, by freeing them into his own brand of linguistic euphoria. But what sets him apart from his imitators, and raises him above them, is his imaginative scope and daring, which is never overly dependent on personal experience -- he is almost never confessional. (...) Paul Muldoon is a fabulous poet, and Poems 1968-1998 should win him a host of new readers." - Stephen Romer, The Guardian

  • "After the virtuoso buoyancy of his first collection, written at 20, the next three seem to waver between a clever but sterile stylization and less filtered efforts (.....) (I)t is with the Meeting the British collection in 1987 that he strengthens into his surest voice." - Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

  • "But this is still a splendid yellow brick of a book, offering a feast of wonderful technical wizardry, although it oscillates between short poems of brave beauty and epics of, frankly, an altogether baffling badness. (...) Anyone truly interested in recent poetry will want this book. Yet one feels that the jury is still out on Muldoon's ultimate achievement." - Alan Brownjohn, The Sunday Times

  • "Poems 1968-1998 collects the lot. It runs or rather skips to nearly 500 pages. Muldoon is revealed in the process as a clever and dexterous poetic performer, but not, in my opinion, as the major talent he has been cracked up to be. His work lacks any core of coherent feeling. (...) Having all Muldoon to date in one volume leaves me admiring the dazzling surfaces, but it also leaves me cold." - Robert Nye, The Times

  • "Poems 1968-1998 was a 30-year work of folly, a mad, beautiful thing, but inhabitable none the less, like a giant beehive hut in Kerry or, rather, like a massive dovecote, a place cosy and quaint, but full of noise, thick with droppings and implying strange recesses, a practical building of fancy, with fretwork gables and twisted columns. It was a book that read as if Robert Frost had written the Cantos." - Ian Sansom, The Guardian (2/11/2002)

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:

Please note that each of the collections included in Poems 1968-1998 is also separately reviewed (see links)

       Poems 1968-1998 collects Paul Muldoon's "eight main collections of poetry" published between 1973 and 1998. It does not include his verse for children, nor (unfortunately) The Prince of the Quotidian (see our review), dismissed in the author's note to this collection as "a journalistic sequence". (More reasonably, it also does not include Muldoon's libretti and verse drama.)
       Still, these eight collections are a lot to pack into one volume. Muldoon's poems generally don't appear dense: he is not one for long, weighty lines, and there is often a sense of spaciousness, as he breaks his lines, and breaks apart his poems. Nevertheless, there is often a lot packed into the words (and some technical tricks in the background as well).
       Muldoon doses the poems quite carefully: most of the collections are made up of shorter poems (of varying degrees of complexity), and then close with one longer poem. This change of pace also helps balance Poems 1968-1998.

       Any collection such as this promises a neat survey of a poet's career, allowing the reader to follow the progress and growth of the author. Muldoon, however, is hard to pin down. There are constant shifts, but they don't always seem like advances. Muldoon's precocious and solid start with New Weather makes for an unusual burden. He builds on it, but not always in the way one might expect.
       Throughout the collections there is a balance of novelty and the tried and true. Themes and approaches resurface, their guise sometimes oddly familiar, sometimes entirely unexpected.
       Many of the short poems, setting a single scene, succeed because of the tight focus. (Others, however, also fall short, often when Muldoon tries one too many tricks with it, the humour or the cleverness too forced.)
       Muldoon has a way with words: a willingness to bend and ply them, a flair for them, a fine ear. It is present throughout the collection. He is also technically ... ambitious. He plays with form, though the demands he puts on it often strain it past what it can withstand. These poems are filled with Muldoon's (infamous) forced rhymes, and lines are often brutally broken to meet the demands of metre. Some of this works, but mostly, really, it doesn't.
       Muldoon's ambitions also come to the fore in his longer poems, sustained (or sometimes not) efforts that weave together form and contents (and the occasional discontents). Incantata -- in which Muldoon for once doesn't concern himself with cutting the length of his lines -- is among his most successful efforts. Yarrow (which is in the same collection, The Annals of Chile) looks simpler, but only at first sight. It offers as bewildering a display. The long Madoc, though made up of many little pieces, is also a tour of quite peculiar force.

       Muldoon does surprise, advancing in his collections ... untowardly, one might say. His experiments are not the most natural steps -- but there is a lot to be said for that too. Occasionally it seems that he merely wants to thwart the reader, indulging in yet another twist of allusive wit or cleverness. But generally he can be forgiven.
       Autobiography -- or at least autobiographical detail -- is found in many of these poems. Muldoon shows striking openness -- and yet it is difficult to get a true sense of the poet as man. Even read together, as here, the 'larger picture' that one might hope to gain fails to materialize. (The Prince of the Quotidian is, indeed, sorely missed, and not only in this regard -- it would have fit nicely here.)

       Poems 1968-1998 is a useful, attractive collection, making those collections that have gone out of print accessible. A sometimes annoying poet, Muldoon is still almost invariably worth putting up with: there's some frustration on many of these pages, but also much reward.
       Poems 1968-1998 contains some minor corrections of what Muldoon calls "factual errors" (misspellings included). He writes that otherwise: "I have made scarcely any changes in the texts of these poems", which is certainly the way one wishes it to be.
       Other than the physical strain -- at nearly 500 pages this is a weighty tome -- there are few disadvantages to perusing Muldoon's poems in this convenient collection, rather than in the individual editions. And, given that several of the collections included here are out of print and essentially unobtainable, there are also clear advantages to this all-in-one collection. Perhaps the only piece which suffers a bit is Madoc: it is squeezed in here, without the page-breaks of the original edition (with each separate piece begun on a new page). The more spaced-out presentation was certainly more attractive, and also more conducive to the reading experience.

       Paul Muldoon is an almost always interesting poet, and this collection offers most of his work. As such, it is an essential volume for anyone interested in contemporary poetry. And it is certainly recommended.

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Poems 1968-1998: Reviews: Paul Muldoon: Other books by Paul Muldoon under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • 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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© 2001-2010 the complete review

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