Do you speak Irish?
Paul Muldoon is a writer, academic and educator, as well as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Since 1987 he has lived in the United States, where he is now Howard G. B. Clark '21 Professor at Princeton University and Chair of the Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts. In 2007 he was appointed Poetry Editor of The New Yorker. Between 1999 and 2004 he was Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, where he is an honorary Fellow of Hertford College. He won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for this work, Moy Sand and Gravel (2002).
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Paul Muldoon was given an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature for 1996. Other recent awards are the 1994 T. S. Eliot Prize, the 1997 Irish Times Poetry Prize, the 2003 Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry, the 2004 American Ireland Fund Literary Award, the 2004 Shakespeare Prize, the 2005 Aspen Prize for Poetry, and the 2006 European Prize for Poetry. He has been described by The Times Literary Supplement as "the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War."
Question: Do you speak Irish?
Paul Muldoon: I speak it now about once every ten years or so. But in fact, when I was younger, when I was a teenager, I learned Irish. I learned it at the grammar school, secondary school, high school and in the way I began to learn Latin or French at the age of 12 or so.
There were a few words before then, of course, that were introduced into our vocabulary, but in a way that was very much underhand. One was not strictly speak--it was not the language of the state if anything. If anything, it would have been perceived in many quarters as being somewhat actually against the state. It was a highly politicized language and still is, for better the worse. I hope actually that will change.
So by the time I was 18, for example, I did much better in my Irish exams than I ever did in my English exams, and studied it for a couple of years at university and was quite, pretty good with it.
But, as I said, I am out of the way, I really don’t have the same kind of facility, not the very huge facility, but a reasonable facility in it.
I still do some translation from Irish, mostly from one particular writer, Enula Negonal. She was the great Irish language poet of the era, so I go back mostly to read her poems, to make sense of them by translating them and so that’s the Irish language experience.
But I went off as a kid, for example, in the way that American kids go to camp, summer camp. We went to language camp, as it were, off to the far flung little areas of Ireland on the west coast, predominantly small, poor areas that had been hard-to-find, out-of-the way spots, islands, peninsulas where the Irish language is still being spoken.
Recorded on: Jan 30, 2008
The Irish language was highly politicized in Muldoon's youth.
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