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PN Review 276
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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

DOCTOR SUBTILIS AND MISTER PLAIN HUMAN Paul Muldoon, Meeting the British, Faber £9.95, £3.95 pb
Richard Kell, In Praise of Warmth: New and Selected Poems, Dedalus £6.00, £4.50 pb

Paul Muldoon's poetic horse is one of a distinct colour: Hallucinatory Logic out of Surrealism by Martian Art. Surrealism is perhaps the most important influence; the chain effect, in which, to use Paul Eluard's words, 'Everything is comparable to everything', is more obvious in this volume than the quasi-Metaphysical conceits of Martian poetry. The poem 'Something Else' presents us with the poet musing on a lobster being 'lifted out of the tank / to be weighed' which reminds him 'of how Nerval / was given to promenade / a lobster on a gossamer thread' and of how, desperate with unrequited love,

he hanged himself from a lamp-post
with a length of chain, which made me think

of something else, then something else again.

(Lobsters crop up several times in this volume; Muldoon seems to have a penchant for them.) 'At any moment all this should connect' another poem wryly informs us: Meeting the British presents the reader with some fascinating links but making them into a meaningful chain is not always easy. Not that Muldoon is unaware of the dangers of such a poetic posture: the girl in 'Ontario' counters the poet's interest in verbal and philosophical obliquities with the crushingly factual 'Did you know that Yonge Street's the longest street in the world?' Esoteric associations suddenly seem affected in the face of such mundane information. Muldoon is not afraid to shoot himself in the foot.


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