After 30 years, Muldoon is still eager to be unpredictable, to be a bandit on the run from each previous incarnation or disguise. The first poem of his second collection (“Lunch with Pancho Villa”) has the Mexican revolutionary look askance at Muldoon’s first book of shattered pastorals and disaffected lyrics: “There’s more to living in this country / Than stars and horses, pigs and trees, / Not that you’d guess it from your poems.” The admonition is probably too harsh, but Villa here speaks as the author’s poetic conscience, always urging him to write “Something a little nearer home.” The need to get nearer to home has often involved grand efforts at re-writing, whether it be public history or the poet’s own life. Muldoon’s two most breathtaking poems to date, both included here, are the book-length “Madoc – A Mystery” and the long poem “Yarrow” (from The Annals of Chile). “Madoc” imagines that Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey have arrived in America during the French-and-Indian War, where they attempt to set up a “Pantisocratic” society. “Yarrow” is in part a hallucinatory memoir of the poet’s bookish childhood, in which characters from Treasure Island, The Arabian Nights, and the Arthurian legends all meet and merge in a dreamy soup of story and poem. Muldoon’s fanatic, Joycean dedication to language is what most impresses throughout; it seems as if he wants to alight at least once on every word in the lexicon. If this desire sometimes riddles his poems with occult references, it also produces a lot of astonishing music.
The work of a great and restless poet unsatisfied with his own heights.