Paul Muldoon

Michael Potiker

Photo: Michael Potiker

Paul Muldoon (b 1951, Portadown, County Armagh) started writing poetry at the age of 13. ‘Then, as now, I was fascinated by the power of words to make me see things as if for the first time’ he says. ‘A flea. A forest. A fluorescent light.’

He  studied at Queen’s University Belfast: while still a student, his first poetry collection was published by Faber and Faber. Although later accolades include the Pulitzer Prize and the role of Oxford Professor of Poetry, but perhaps the most memorable came in those early days from Seamus Heaney, to whom the young Muldoon showed a batch of poems with the question: what could be done to improve them? ‘Nothing’, Heaney replied.

Since 1987, Muldoon has lived in the United States, where he is a Professor at Princeton University, poetry editor of The New Yorker and the guitarist and lyricist for a band, Wayside Shrines.

Quizzed about One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Faber, 2014), he admits he finds starting a new collection hard. ‘Each time out, it seems as if one might have discovered the source of the Nile,’ he says. ‘More often than not, it’s a septic tank in one’s own backyard.’

 Read the Forward Prizes Q&A with Paul Muldoon: “One of the things one realizes, as one gets on a bit, is how very hard it is to be any good. I’m now much more humble before the idea of being an artist than I was when I was a teenager.”