Alan Walsh on Paul Muldoon


Paul Muldoon: Rara Avis.

The old story about a teenage Paul Muldoon sending his novice poems to Seamus Heaney didn’t run the way people like to tell it. The story goes he posted them to his hero, asking what, if anything, could be done to improve them and the older poet replied very simply; nothing. What Heaney had actually said was that he couldn’t tell Muldoon anything he wouldn’t find out for himself. Rara Avis, was what his teacher, Jerry Hicks, called him when first introducing him to Heaney and it was the older poet that caught him his first break, recommending him to Charles Monteith at Faber poetry and helping him right along to publication while still a student.
The poem Cuthbert and the Otters, from Muldoon’s latest collection features the line everyone hooked themselves onto at the 2013 Durham book festival only a few weeks after Heaney’s funeral:
“I cannot thole the thought of Seamus Heaney dead.”
And it’s very hard to think of Muldoon without half a mind to his fellow Ulsterman. While it might seem to many that Muldoon fell under the master’s influence early on, turning his head from the showboating of poets like Eliot, clashing high and low brow in a single line, to writing about his country and the life around him, Muldoon is more inclined to see influence as a shared thing and has suggested he might have had some impact on Heaney’s work too. It’s hardly impossible. The two are so entwined in popular perception many read Muldoon’s poem Madoc: A Mystery, which tells of Southey and Coleridge trying to set up a Pantisocracy in North America, as a metaphor for the two Ulster poets setting course for major positions in American academia. If he did turn his head it wasn’t all the way. Muldoon has always been a verbal trickster, always mixed and matched meter and tone, and copying his poems into Word has always left the white page awash in wiggly red underlines. He writes in Villanelles, the more complex double sestinas, Persian ghazals and Pantoums. He sets up a neat little acrostic in the poem Capercaillies that reads “Is this a New Yorker Poem or what.” (turned out it wasn’t, they refused it) and shifts gear from sardonic to pathos and back within a line.
Stunt Reading could be the key to it all. It’s a way of reading a poem Muldoon introduced to students during his Oxford lectures. An awareness of what he called cryptocurrents, secret meanings, in-jokes and, like jazz, the notes you don’t hear. Yeats, Tsvetaeva, Hughes, Frost and many others effectively have their poetry rewritten through gamifying the close-reading process into a free-association sport. Like the best of Muldoon’s work, it’s unserious and scholarly, fun but maddeningly intricate and at the same time revealing moments only the highest poetry can aspire to.

By Alan Walsh




Getting your foot in the door of performing in Dublin’s various nights of music, spoken word and poetry can be mildly daunting. Going to the events themselves is definitely a start, and most of the performers/organisers are usually very willing to pass on advice, but there are a select few nights that make it their business to encourage new performers, and by far the nicest is Milk & Cookies.

Milk & Cookies is a night of open-mic storytelling that runs on the second Tuesday of every month in various locations around the city. The entire night is designed to be welcoming – it’s free in, the venue is liberally strewn with duvets, blankets, cushions and enough fairy lights to illuminate a moderately-sized elven workshop. Free tea, coffee and various baked goods are also supplied – indeed, a crucial part of the proceeding is the M & C Bake-off. Guests are encouraged – it’s not mandatory – to bring confections of their own creation, and you can sign up your produce to go head-to-head with others, with a box of chocolates and certificate up for grabs.

It’s also a non-drinking, child-friendly (at least pre-watershed) environment, and occasionally the whole event will be aimed towards kids, which makes for a nice change from the usual, although there was an incident where one storyteller launched into a story about how they discovered Santa wasn’t real, failing to notice the three six-year olds sitting in front of them. Do a quick sweep of the room if you’re planning to orate something more X-rated.

M & C are very keen to bring in new storytellers – you get between seven and ten minutes, and the crowd are the nicest and most supportive I’ve ever experienced in Dublin, so I’d thoroughly recommend signing up at least once. They try and encourage storytelling, as opposed to a comedic set or poetry, so keep that in mind, but after that the definition gets pretty loose so almost any subject is up for grabs. The nights are themed, if you need inspiration, but these are usually guidelines only.

Milk & Cookies has been running for over four years now, making it one of the more established nights in Dublin, and they have an eclectic mix of featured acts on rotation. They’ve also branched into a summer festival and the occasional ‘After Dark’ event with musical acts where alcohol is permitted and the stories get a tad more loquacious.

As the event moves around, I’d recommend liking their Facebook page here and giving it a shot. Storytelling and sugar buzz – what’s not to like?

M&C runs on the second Tuesday of each month in various locales – doors at 6.30, show at 7

Dave Rudden

One City, One Mic – The Monday Echo


It’s a badly-kept secret that half the pubs in Dublin have a poky little back room or a hidden staircase leading to an upstairs bar and you’d be surprised just how many of these hidden treasures have been taken over by enterprising people with a mic stand and an idea.

If you’re looking to gain a toehold into Dublin’s thriving spoken word and literary scene, you can’t go wrong by starting at the Monday Echo, downstairs in the International Bar.

The Echo features a selection of spoken word and musical acts, all hand-picked by the event’s curator Aidan Murphy. Most of the acts are Irish-based, though occasionally artists passing through from further fields are hooked in to perform a set.

There are a few things that make the Echo unique. The first is that the place is consistently packed, which is admirable for a weekly event. The event is unplugged, meaning the performers rely on their own lungpower and the goodwill of the crowd (there is a rule of respect and silence in play, which Aidan will cheerfully remind you of for no charge at all) and the close quarters mean that if you liked a particular act there’s a good chance you’ll be sitting beside them in about five minutes.

The acts are reliably good, well-chosen for the venue and the crowd. The Echo is only the latest incarnation of a long-running tradition of spoken word at the International and half the crowd are regulars, the other half drawn in by the sounds of guitar and the smell of stew. Many of the performers run their own nights as well, so your Tuesdays and Wednesdays could end up filled as well.

That’s a more mercenary plus to the night – the Echo has no cover charge, and the International Bar are kind enough to provide bowls of stew for only €3, if you don’t mind swatting away the starving artists.

It can get a little packed in there so arrive early if you want a seat. If you’re of the performing persuasion then bring a guitar or a poem as Aidan runs an open mic directly afterwards where singers get two songs and poets five minutes.

All in all, if you want to dip your toe in the world of backroom poets and staircase spoken word, there really isn’t anywhere better to start.

The Echo runs every Monday downstairs in the International Bar – doors at 7, show at 8

Dave Rudden