Small Talk: Paul Muldoon

Born in Northern Ireland in 1951, Paul Muldoon has won numerous awards for his poetry including a Pulitzer and a TS Eliot prize. Among 11 collections are New Weather (1973), Madoc: A Mystery (1990) and Maggot (2010). He is a professor at Princeton University and poetry editor of The New Yorker. He lives in New York City.

Who is your perfect reader?

That would be a combination of Jonathan Galassi and Jean Hanff Korelitz. The first happens to be my US editor, and he tolerates very little bullshit. The second happens to be my wife, and she tolerates no bullshit whatsoever.

What book changed your life?

The third edition of The Faber Book of Modern Verse, edited by my now friend Donald Hall, which came out in 1965. I read it in 1966, I think, when I was 15. I soon knew it pretty much by heart.

What is your daily writing routine?

I write almost every day – but hardly ever poems. I sit down to try to write a poem only a dozen times a year. For that I need to limber up in the way Georges Simenon used to limber up for a Maigret novel. He had his health checked by his doctor. Then he lined up 40 pipes filled with tobacco and 50 sharpened pencils and got stuck in.

Where do you write best?

I’ve always gone to work in an office. I never write at home. Home is for hanging out.

What poem do you wish you’d written?

“To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell [1621-1678].

Who are your literary influences?

As much as the poets from the English and Irish traditions, my biggest influences have been prose fiction writers: Swift, Sterne, Joyce, Beckett, Flann O’Brien.

What are you scared of?

Water. I almost drowned when I was a kid and have never got over it.

How do you relax?

By shooting bows and arrows. I’m trying to get myself organised to take some kyudo lessons. I also go to a huge number of rock concerts.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

Get another job.

What are you most proud of writing?

Pride and poetry don’t go together, I suspect. I’m relieved to have been able to write the 15 lectures I gave while I was professor of poetry at Oxford. That was a massive challenge to me.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

New York City. We’re just about to move into Manhattan and I’m really very excited about becoming a city poet.

What does it mean to be a writer?

It means that I don’t ever have to learn to use the remote on our television set. I am my own home entertainment centre.

Paul Muldoon’s latest poetry collection is ‘The Word on the Street: Rock Lyrics’ (Faber)

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