Muldoon’s debut is years in the making, and it feels like a veteran effort.
There’s a particular passage in Muldoon’s “Flavours” that sheds light on his poetic process: “To the top of that big hill / Take another triangular pill / Seasoning done, with some dill / Grow them on your windowsill / Tell me now; have you had your fill? / Or are you just gunning for that Phil / I’m always one to kill time / I’m just a worker at the mill.” As “hill” gives way to “pill” gives way to “dill”—and on and on—it slowly dawns on us: Muldoon isn’t trying to use rhyme; he’s trying to exhaust it. Which is just another way of saying that the poet’s default mode is excess. Many of the poems here are, like “Flavours,” characterized less by careful structure than by drive, by a brimming energy that propels the reader from line to line. So while Muldoon cites as influences Shakespeare, Tennyson, and cummings, his real poetic father is Allen Ginsberg, who defined the breathless style in the mid-20th century. This collection is the result of a process of enthusiastic culling. Muldoon explains that when he began compiling the volume, he had over 3,000 poems to choose from. Scores and scores fell by the wayside until just 90-odd pages of verse remain. Muldoon selected the pieces here for their quality, presumably, not for any particular theme, so the result ranges widely, touching on love, sex, despair, poverty, etc. The poet himself argues that the need to “be here now” (a tip of the hat to the ’60s guru Ram Dass?) is one of the volume’s repeating concerns, and we hear such presentism in poems like “Interpretation Xenon”: “When you live, you learn / When you love, you adorn… / When is it time, for now? / Now, then again, now.” Though it pops up only sporadically, Muldoon’s interest in the now lends his poems a sense of refreshing urgency.
Insistent poetry that demands our attention—and gets it.