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This review is taken from PN Review 60, Volume 14 Number 4, March - April 1988.

THE GLASS BEYOND THE GRIN Paul Muldoon, Selected Poems 1968-1983 (Faber) £8.95, £3.95 pb.
Paul Muldoon, Meeting the British (Faber) £9.95, £3.95 pb.
Tom Paulin, The Strange Museum (Faber) £4.95 pb.
Eavan Boland, The Journey (Carcanet/Arlen House) £4.95 pb.

They are a funny lot, the Celts. The problem for the English southern-suburban mind is always to decide quite when they're joking and when they're furiously angry. The other week in a pub, a huge Scotsman for no perceptible reason turned and threatened a friend of mine with a Glasgow cocktail: we really didn't know, and neither I suspect did he, whether a smashed bottle or just a smashed giggle was going to come next. You get much the same feeling from the poetry of Paul Muldoon and Tom Paulin: broken glass beyond the grin.

Muldoon has always struck me as an uneven poet, at his spasmodic best a writer undervalued in some parts of the literary establishment, and his new Selected Poems confirms this view. He seems quite early to have learned the right lessons from another currently undervalued poet, Robert Lowell: how to transmute bits of current affairs, domestic architecture and random cultural baggage into unexpectedly personal poems; how to tighten up disarmingly loose-looking versification with assymetrically-placed rhymes and assonances. His first book, New Weather (1973), has hints of late 1960s miniaturism about it in pieces such as 'Wind and Tree' and 'Thrush', both of which embody an attractive air of enigmatic wonder. The selection from his next book, Mules (1977), opens with the splendid 'Lunch with Pancho Villa'. Here everything works perfectly: the fusion of the ludicrous situation with colloquial diction; the turning of the joke so that it hangs in mid-air in mid-poem; ...


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