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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the April 2, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Poets Get Their 30 Days
National Poetry Month is here again. But this year,
it’s not quite business as usual for the observance created in 1996
by the Academy of American Poets. Even as the cherry blossoms have
been stubbornly late in bringing their beauty to Washington, the nation’s
poets — professional and amateur — have placed themselves
front and center in the national debate on war and peace. Princeton
poet Paul Muldoon is one of the first area poets to step into the
April spotlight this week with a reading from his latest collection,
"Moy Sand and Gravel," on Wednesday, April 2, at 7 p.m., the
Princeton U-Store. He is also a featured speaker at the College of
New Jersey Writers’ Conference, on Thursday, April 10, at 4:30 p.m.
Muldoon has spent the last decade living, teaching, and raising a
family in Princeton with his wife and author Jean Hanff Korelitz.
He is a professor humanities and creative writing at Princeton University;
in 1999 he was also elected professor of poetry at Oxford University
in the U.K. where he lectures three times a year.
While Muldoon’s new volume of poems, his ninth, pays tribute to his
roots in the village of Moy, Northern Ireland, the site of "Moy
Sand and Gravel," it also takes a quizzical and heartfelt look
at his wife’s Jewish-American heritage and his life as a father. At
the heart of the book is "The Grand Conversation," a poem
that compares and contrasts his own Irish heritage with that of Korelitz.
Further enriching the stew are the couple’s two young children, Dorothy
and Asher, to whom the new book of poems is dedicated.
Born in Northern Ireland in 1951, Muldoon was raised near Moy in the
apple-growing region of County Armagh. His father was a laborer whose
education did not extend beyond age nine. But from his mother, a teacher,
he learned to love words. Muldoon started writing his own poems at
about age nine and won a scholarship to St. Patrick’s, a Catholic
high school in Armagh, which allowed him to develop his literary gifts.
Muldoon’s first collection, "New Weather," was published in
1973, when he was just 20 years old. He received his B.A. from Queen’s
College in Belfast where he studied with the Irish Nobel Prize-winning
poet Seamus Heaney, a poet who has remained a friend and a mentor.
Muldoon’s anthology "Poems 1968-98," a collection of his first
eight volumes, was published in 2001 by Farrar Straus Giroux. Muldoon
won the 1997 Irish Times Literature Prize for Poetry and the 1995
T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize for "The Annals of Chile."
The poem printed here is one Muldoon chose to read at Princeton’s
"Poems for Peace" community event, organized by Rice Lyons,
at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation on February 11.
"Truce" (published in "Poems 1968-98") is set during
World War I when warring German and British troops put down their
arms and shared a Christmas meal.
The reading was one of many across the nation inspired by poet Sam
Hamill when he declined an invitation from First Lady Laura Bush to
join a White House symposium on American poets Emily Dickinson, Langston
Hughes, and Walt Whitman. The White House responded to indications
of protest by Hamill and others by canceling the symposium with a
statement to the effect that "poetry should not be used for political
What ensued was an outpouring of poems supporting peace posted on
Hamill’s website www.poetsagainstthewar.org — more
than 13,000 poems at last count. In a related action, hundreds of
community poetry readings were spontaneously organized around the
date of the canceled symposium.
The range of professional and amateur poets joining Muldoon at the
two-hour Princeton reading included Pulitzer Prize winner C.K. Williams,
young area poetry slam champ Kate Mendes-Frikis, with newcomers and
old-timers from throughout the area. Among the newcomers was a Russian
immigrant who told the audience his father had been lost at Auschwitz
and he himself had been imprisoned by the Soviet authorities for writing
poems about freedom.
— Nicole Plett
Place, 609-921-8500. National Poetry Month event (www.poets.org).
Free. Wednesday, April 2, 7 p.m.
Brower Student Center, Ewing, 609-771-3254. Thursday, April 10,
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