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Who's in the Video
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[…]

It takes Muldoon ages to write a sentence.

Question: How do you compose?

Paul Muldoon: For me that process is quite painstaking and just very slow. I am--I think this is true of many writers. It takes me ages to write a sentence.

In my day job, I am an administrator which is terrifically difficult for me. It really is, and for reasons that are perhaps would not be evident to most administrators--I mean there are many difficulties associated with administration, but for me the big one is that I can’t write, I can’t toss off an email.  I have to look it and turn it over; as if it could be written on the headstone somewhere. And that’s not good, that’s not good.

One of the things that one has to acquire I suppose is the patience from that, the patience to go slowly--comparatively slowly--but what we’re talking about is it’s been a couple of days writing a poem even though it looks as if, of course, if it is written in but five minutes flat. That’s the whole idea, as you know, is that to takes a week to do that.

At the risk of being tiresome here, of cherishing, cherishing ignorance.

Very basic principle at work here: if I know what I am doing, you probably will too, and vice versa. It’s a simple as that. If I know what I am doing and you know what I am doing. What’s the point? There is no point, we should go and watch a movie. There is no point in even starting if we both know what’s happening.

And the only way one could be sure of that is for the first person involved, i.e., the writer, first reader-writer, writer-reader, is not to know what is going on. That doesn’t mean that one has left one's brain outside the door. Absolutely not. Because the other side of this actually is that it requires much more in the way of intelligence then most of us can manage. It really requires an extraordinary, intensive focus on reading those words as they come out of that place of unknowing.

So the focus of knowing upon unknowing and the negotiation back and forth, to and fro, between not knowing and knowing and not knowing and knowing—that’s where it gets done. But it’s only if you properly respect ignorance that there's half a chance of happening.


Recorded on: Jan 30, 2008