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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry


Paul Muldoon

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To purchase Hay

Title: Hay
Author: Paul Muldoon
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1998
Length: 128 pages
Availability: Hay - US
also in: Poems 1968-1998 - US
Hay - UK
also in: Poems 1968-1998 - UK
  • Also included in Poems 1968-1998 (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : complex, sometimes amusing, often baffling, fairly clever variety of poetry

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe A- 27/12/1998 Andrew Frisardi
The Guardian A- 17/10/1998 Tim Kendall
The LA Times B+ 7/2/1999 Meghan O'Rourke
The New Republic . 30/11/1998 Adam Kirsch
The New Yorker . 26/10/1998 .
Raritan B+ Spring/1999 David Wheatley
TLS . 29/1/1999 Nicholas Jenkins
The Village Voice A 8/10/1998 Michael Coffey
Virginia Q. Rev. B+ Spring/1999 .
World Lit. Today B- Spring/1999 William Pratt

  Review Consensus:

  Fairly enthusiastic, though many complaints about the obscureness of much of the poetry.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)here is enough going on in Hay to engage readers from many different persuasions." - Andrew Frisardi, Boston Globe

  • "All gets conveyed with the usual virtuoso flair. (...) No longer an enfant terrible and not yet an elder statesman, Muldoon is beginning to develop a style which relaxes more and conceals less." - Tim Kendall, The Guardian

  • "Hay is -- often productively -- a disjunctive collection. At their charismatic best, Muldoon's strange, vital poems deliver an instant pleasure, while their giddy sense of discovery keeps one coming back for more." - Meghan O'Rourke, The Los Angeles Times

  • "This book demonstrates the dangers that can arise when ingenuity becomes a habit, to be sustained for its own sake. Too often in Hay, Muldoon allows his premise (...) to do too much of the work, resulting in a poem that is less than the sum of its parts. And the poems in which there is less planning and more actual inventiveness -- the opening "The Mudroom," the closing sonnet sequence -- have neither the scope nor the energy of his best displays." - Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

  • "Above all, though, Hay stages middle Muldoon as someone inseparably identified with the burden of a particular personal and civic history, as represented here (inwardly) by floods of often desolating memories and (outwardly) by a welter of objects. (...) In fact, though, Muldoon has used his own life in the bourgeois sphere as material with which to probe the limits of autobiographical poetry in general. Hay is an amazing formal and thematic representation of the interchanges between self and other that go into making an identity, and of the ways in which the "I" in a lyric poem is a mysteriously provisional quantity" - Nicholas Jenkins, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The Hay poems are all recognizable in an instant as Muldoon's, with their admixtures of the plainspoken voice, exotic references, and a mischievous love of slant rhyming. It all adds up to a poetic music as bizarre as a blend of the Celtic and the klezmer." - Michael Coffey, The Village Voice

  • "Who is he, this Irish-born writer with his multilingual banter, this Euramerican expatriate with the gift of the gab, this erudite jester with a nose for the news? A talented teaser who passes for a profound poet, that's who." - William Pratt, World Literature Today

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:

       Paul Muldoon's collection Hay is a varied lot of poetry. Some of Muldoon's distinct tricks and humour shimmer through most of the poems, but not all of them are readily recognizable as his. Included are longer poems, sonnets, translation, two essentially "typographical" poems, ninety so-called Hopewell Haikus, and a series of Sleeve Notes -- coy little poems about various records and Muldoon's experience with them. A decidedly mixed bag, in all regards.
       A clever poet, with a strong taste for wordplay, Muldoon here shows off all the things he can do -- showing much of what he can't do in the process. Many of the poems are strongly autobiographical, and these aspects tend to be the most accessible. Muldoon's move from Ireland to the US makes for some interesting contrasts. The autobiographical details of current family life and former loves are generally well-presented (though we could certainly do without yet another poet going on about the family cat). The Little Black Book is an interesting variation on that particular idea, with some arresting imagery and Muldoon at his most playful (not necessarily a good thing), the idea teased out well.
       Virgil also figures prominently, especially in the long poem The Bangle (Slight Return). That poem -- among the more serious efforts in this collection -- is an excellent sustained piece. The closing poem, it also brings together the idea of "errata" that, erratically, is one of the unifying themes of the collection. One poem is simply titled Errata and is a sequence of corrections:

For "Antrim" read "Armagh"
For "mother" read "other"
       Aside from the mere wordplay, the substitution, alterations, emendations reflect Muldoon's own shifts. Doubles -- though not mirror images -- figure throughout the collection (which is also filled with cross-references to other poems in the collection, as well as Muldoon's previous work). Personified by the Siamese twins Chnag and Eng (in the strong Lag), unity, separation, and disjointedness constantly recur.
       Muldoon's move from Ireland to America is succinctly summed up in one of the Sleeve Notes, a disguised variation on the errata:

So it was I gave up the Oona for the Susquehanna,
the Shannon for the Shenandoah.
       Muldoon can also write a good, simple poem when he chooses -- the excellent Burma, for example. The two typographical poems are clever enough -- though, strategically placed, they seem designed mainly to shake up readers complacently wading through the collection.
       Only the Hopewell Haiku really disappoint. There are clever bits among them, but there are ninety (90 !) of them, including such forced efforts as:

I tamped it with hay,
the boot that began to leak
Thursday or Friday.
       A varied, self-referential collection -- which also places varying demands on the reader -- there is much to enjoy here, and a few bits that are very strong. We enjoyed it without being fully won over. The wordplay is sometimes too aggressive, and the mix of slight poems slipped in beside heady ones makes it an uneven read. This is a collection where any reader could find something they liked tremendously -- as well as something else that frustrated them.

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Hay: 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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