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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Why Brownlee Left

Paul Muldoon

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To purchase Poems 1968-1998

Title: Why Brownlee Left
Author: Paul Muldoon
Genre: Poetry
Written: 1980
Length: 28 pages
Availability: in Poems 1968-1998 - US
in Poems 1968-1998 - UK
  • Also included in Poems 1968-1998 (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Encounter . 2-3/1981 Alan Hollinghurst
The Guardian . 16/11/1980 M.Dodsworth
London Rev. of Books . 20/11/1980 D. Mahon
New Statesman . 26/9/1980 Andrew Motion
The Observer . 19/10/1980 Peter Porter
The Sunday Times . 28/9/1980 I. Hamilton
TLS . 14/11/1980 Alan Jenkins

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The complete review's Review:

       The fairly small collection, Why Brownlee Left, is generally very approachable. Biography, Ireland, soldiers, and sex figure prominently, in appealing poems that (generally) don't try too hard.
       The collection begins with the whimsical Whim, telling of a somewhat unfortunate sexual encounter (including the memorable if unlikely image: "Once he got stuck into her he got stuck / Full stop").
       Muldoon's wit, and the unexpected turns in the poems work well here. He doesn't overelaborate (too often), and the focussed memories and episodes are presented to good effect.
       There are a number of very fine poems, including the straightforward The Boundary Commission. Reining in his ambition, it comes together almost perfectly:

You remember that village where the border ran
Down the middle of the street,
With the butcher and baker in different states ?

Today he remarked how a shower of rain

Had stopped so cleanly across Golightly's lane
It might have been a wall of glass
That had toppled over. He stood there, for ages,
To wonder which side, if any, he should be on.
       Muldoon closes almost each of his poetry collections with a longer piece. Here it is Immram, a more involuted imagined piece, told in the first person but recounting a family-history quite different from Muldoon's own.
       A short counter-piece, Immrama, precedes it (though not directly), beginning: "I, too have, trailed my father's spirit", and recounting how the father "took passage, almost, for Argentina." In Immram there is a similar quest, but the fantasy is spun out much more wildly, with the father fleeing "to La Paz, the to Buenos Aires, / From alias to alias." The American urban grit doesn't ring entirely true in the poem, but Muldoon tries enough here to still make it interesting.

       Overall, Why Brownlee Left is certainly a fine collection, the typical mixed bag of Muldoon poetry.

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Why Brownlee Left: 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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