Skip to content
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[…]

We are tiny little organisms that, if we are lucky, says Muldoon, “might have half dozen obsessions on which we can draw.”

Question: What themes do you have left to explore in your poetry? 

Paul Muldoon: I have no idea which themes I might be exploring, partly of course because I suspect, I expect, like most writers, I don’t begin with themes, I don’t think when I write, here is my theme for the day.

In fact it’s the last thing I would thing about. In fact, I might never think about it. I rarely think about it, I’d say. I could barely tell you what the themes in my poems are. I could say there are some of them about Ireland.

Yeats had this great phrase about the only two suitable themes were sex and the dead. Those are the only two themes.

I have no idea. One doesn’t think about that, at least I don’t think about it, for the simple reason that that will take care of itself.

One might say that we are very basic little organisms in the world, though we’d prefer to think we’re not. And if we’re lucky, if we’re lucky, we might have half dozen obsessions on which we can draw, to which we might appeal, not consciously necessarily. And those will turn out be our themes.

We tend to think about similar things. We tend to think about similar things: love, lost love, death, joy, a little bit of joy. But joy, it is not so interesting as grief, alas. If I tell you, “I am so happy today,” you’re not really going to be so interested in that if I tell you, “I feel awful today.” Because then you can give me a shoulder to cry on. Whereas if I will tell you I am happy, there’s really nothing you can do for me except to say, “what’s your problem?”

So the themes; I have no idea. I suppose one other things I have to say that, when I do think about it, which is not too often then I think probably not too often for the very good reason that it is troubling when I think about it. It gets harder and harder to be a lyric poet, which I suppose is basically what I am. It gets harder and harder to do that. It does not get easier. It gets harder. And one doesn’t want to repeat oneself, though of course one ends up doing that. All sorts of things. One wants to try to do better I suppose and doesn’t, one thing to do it does not necessarily make it so, unfortunately. So that’s always troubling to think about. 

I hope that if it comes to the point as, which may have already arrived, who knows, where what I am doing and what I am trying to do is just so dreadful that, somebody will take me to one side and say, “please, maybe that email person would be that the person to do it. Stop doing it.”

And I think actually, alas, one looks around and there are many artist who--however distinguished there careers have been--really have stayed on the train one stop or two stops too long. It’s sad. One hopes that I will just go to Florida before that.


Recorded on: Jan 30, 2008