Why did you leave Ireland?
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: Why did you leave Ireland?
Paul Muldoon: There were a number of things that happened, a number of components and I may not even quite understand to this day why I left.
But certainly it was only afterwards that I realized there must be some connection between my father’s death in 1985 and my leaving there in 1986, which just hadn’t struck me at the time. But part of the reason I was holding on was on some level to be near him.
There was also fact that I met and fell in love with a woman; we lived in Belfast for a while, but it was necessarily her favorite spot.
There was also the fact that, my job, much as I loved it, really was, it was coming to the point where it was extremely demanding, particularly working in television and, waking up in the middle of the night wondering if it was going to rain the next day, for example--the kind of concern that the television folk have. But I realized that I probably would not be able to write to the extent that I would like, even though poetry was the thing that was most of interest to me, and even though actually I spend very little time writing poetry, and never have spent much time writing poetry, physically, in terms of the number of hours in the year. Even so, I felt some other was time to move, time to go on.
Also, I was asked pretty much coincidentally if I’d like to come over here and do some teaching, over here to the US that’s to say. So there were a number of things coming together, and it’s--I still feel very close to the place, very close to it; and go back there all the time.
It now is extraordinarily easy to hop in the plane in Newark in the evening and five or six hours later, depending on the winds, one’s in Belfast. There’s a direct flight to Belfast from New York and that makes one’s sense of one’s place very different I think.
Not so long ago when my cousins, my uncles or my neighbors were coming over to the US, and this in the 20th century, and, of course, in the earlier centuries, the chances of their ever being able to afford to come back were slender. The length of time it took to come back was large, so it was a much different proposition, so for the moment anyhow--of course, who knows when oil runs how it’s going to be--but for the moment it’s comparatively easy to get back and forth.
I lived there until I was 35 and left so I have been here for more than 20 years. So much of it comes with one. It’s ingrained in me that I know, even now, I know the country very, very well. My sense of it is very good in terms of what that road looks like between wherever and wherever in which ever county of Ireland. Though it’s changed a lot too, much of it has remained the same.
Recorded on: Jan 30, 2008
Love and death kept Muldoon in Ireland, and prompted him to leave.
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