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This article is taken from PN Review 106, Volume 22 Number 2, November - December 1995.

Paul Muldoon and the Exploding Sestina Fenella Copplestone

Despite the fact that he was this year's winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize with The Annals of Chile, a question mark hangs over the achievement of Paul Muldoon. Questions about the content of his poetry, its 'meaning', arise, and because he is an Irish poet, about commitment. Some critics, Anthony Thwaite for one, have refused to play ludo with him again. The Annals of Chile falls into two parts, the first being largely what Muldoon calls 'hymns to the humdrum': on his awakening sexuality and his mother's response to it: a visit to his parents' grave that surprisingly calls to mind the taste of a sexual relationship, a clever 'sonogram' of his daughter in the womb, and a delightful one on being present at her birth which is possibly a first for the male poets of Ireland. Then what he considers his chief works, the 43-octave 'Incantata', and the actual Annals themselves, a chronicle entitled 'Yarrow' (the bi-pinnate weed with the pink and white flowers, not the 'Dowie Houms of Yarrow' - though with Muldoon who can be sure?). Their subject-matter is 'that familiar old tried and true one-two, that old double whammy of "sex and the dead" so beloved of Yeats'.

For the elegy 'Incantata', a touching and rather wonderful poem prompted by the death of a former lover and friend, the artist Mary Farl Powers, and dashed off in five days, Muldoon uses an 8-line stanzaic form which he calls a 'stadium stanza', borrowed ...


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