When Paul Muldoon was in secondary school, he picked up a pencil and began writing poetry. Over 40 years later, after a highly influential career, including a Pulitzer Prize to his name, he found himself in a packed room in the Charles F. Dolan School of Business reading his poetry in front of faculty and students.
Muldoon, a man with a commanding presence and a friendly brogue, read poems that he wrote throughout his career. Some were prompted by powerful experiences and situations that impacted him personally.
He has written 30 books of poetry and won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for his collection, “Moy Sand and Gravel.” In addition to being one of the most prestigious Irish poets in the modern age, Muldoon is a Howard G. B. Clark ’21 professor at Princeton University and serves as the poetry editor for The New Yorker.
He first read “Anseo,” a poem recounting his school days in Ireland. Children would say “Anseo,” the Irish word for “here,” when their name was called in the beginning of class. “The Sightseers” came after, centering on a memory of his family visiting a graveyard in northern Ireland. Muldoon also read “Cuba,” describing the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that could have “went one way or the other,” he said.
In between his poems, Muldoon paused to discuss his inspirations and writing process. Though time and place influence his subject matter, Muldoon said that ultimately “the poems write themselves through me and I’m a medium.”
“The image or phrase is in my mind,” he said. “I don’t know what the poem is about. I see where it takes me.”
Dr. Nels C. Pearson, the director of Irish Studies and an associate professor of English at Fairfield, hoped people would gain a deeper appreciation for the spoken performance of poetry. He teaches many of Muldoon’s poems in his class.
“The oral performance of poetry is still a powerful intimate experience,” Pearson said. “You won’t get that on the page.”
Aside from his extensive work in poetry, Muldoon is a member of the band “Wayside Shrines.” During his reading, Muldoon recited lyrics from songs like “Good Luck With That” and “It Won’t Ring True.” These songs, among others, appear in a collection entitled “The Word on the Street.”
Wednesday’s poetry reading event was organized by Pearson, along with the help of Professor Marion White, who played a key role in contacting Muldoon to come to Fairfield. The event was sponsored by the Irish Studies Department and the English Department and also received funding from the Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences and the MFA in Creative Writing program.
“He (was) very personable; it was very unexpected, especially knowing he is a Pulitzer prize winner,” said Johana Rendon-Ledesma ‘16. “Never having heard his poetry, it was refreshing to hear the various topics he has written about and hearing the stories behind his poetry about his childhood in Ireland.”
Once Muldoon finished his reading, people lined up to shake his hand and get his autograph. Muldoon’s books were also available for purchase after the event.
“I saw him 25 years ago at Villanova University and he was just as engaging then as he was now,” said Dr. Peter Bayers, associate professor of English. “It was a real pleasure. Not all poetry readings were as intimate as this one.”