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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[…]

Stop immediately.

Question: What advice do you have for young poets? 

Paul Muldoon: Stop immediately.

My advice for myself and anyone else is trying to do—and it’s hard to remember oneself.

I think one of the reasons why poets dis-improve with age is that, put very crudely, they think they know what they are doing. They think they are special. They think they’ve been around the block once or twice. They’re in command.

You’d understand why people begin to think like that, particularly if increasingly there are fewer and people who have the nerve to say “you know what? Your poems stinks. Your poem stinks”; which is what they should be saying, where appropriate. They are doing them a favor to say that.

So what I say to them is, forget about yourself, as they say. Get over yourself. And remember that the greatest poems come from a place that no one can quite account for. There’s always a mysterious aspect about where they came from. That includes that essay you wrote when you were 15, when you wonder now who wrote that. And so one has to develop ways of, insofar as we can, of being able to get to that place.

Question: What should they read? 

Paul Muldoon: A book that I often, from time to time, suggest to people to read is a book called Zen In The Art Of Archery by Eugen Heregal, a German philosopher who went to study with a Japanese master Archer. This was a man who was able, as many of them are, to hit a bulls eye in the middle of the night, all blindfold.

So he goes of to find out how that is possible and of course what he discovers is that it is possible only when one allows it to do it, when one has no engagement with it at all, only when one gives one so have over to that. 

I know it sounds crazy and I don’t have [inaudible] but actually I bravely believe that.

Unless one does something like that nothing really of any significance is going to come out of what you are doing. Only when you allow yourself to go to that place of innocence and ignorance, what Wordsworth called wise passiveness, which Keats describes as negative capability. Only then are you going to make art that is any real meaning--because it comes from that place of unknowing, and it touches that place of unknowing in the reader.