FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
PAUL MULDOON: I started 50 years ago, when I was 13. Then, as now, I was fascinated by the power of words to make me see things as if for the first time. A flea. A forest. A fluorescent light.
FAF: Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
PM: By the time I was 16 I was pretty sure that poetry was what I wanted to focus on. I have a 16 year old son now and I can see how committed he is to various forms of art making. He’s no less a serious artist at 16 than the 46 or 66 year old. 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. In fact, I barely think of myself as an artist at all. I just do my best, then hope for the best.
FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
PM: I’m very glad to think of anyone even reading my poems, never mind awarding prizes for them. One of the benefits of some of these high profile prizes is that they might encourage more people to open themselves to poetry. Or simply to open a poetry book. Most people who complain about poetry being too this or too that simply haven’t read a poem for a long time.
FAF: Please tell us about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Does it mark a departure or change from your earlier work? Which poems in this collection are most important to you?
PM: Like most writers, I do like to think I’m breaking new ground. What’s the point, otherwise? Like most writers, however, I’m certain I’m doomed to scratch away at the same acre of ploughed land. Each time out, it seems as if one might have discovered the source of the Nile. More often than not, it’s a septic tank in one’s own backyard. The poem I like best in this new book is Dirty Data. It’s like some things I’ve written, I suppose, but it’s also quite unlike anything else.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
PM: My all time hero is John Donne. He’s out on his own. Everybody else is playing catch up.
FAF: What’s next for you as a poet?
PM: I’m putting together a Selected Poems 1968-2014 which will be out in the fall of 2016. And I’m working on new poems and songs.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
PM: Learn as much as you can from the people who are really good at it. And pace yourself. It’s all about the long haul.