Paul Muldoon has a mess of hair that moves even when he’s standing still. That’s probably because what’s under it causes the follicles to vibrate. He’s intense to say the least but engaging.
By looking at him he would be what a person like me would imagine an Ivy League English professor with a boat loads of awards under his belt to look like — blazer, tie, comfortable shoes.
But like life’s wonderful surprises, what you see ain’t what you get.
Muldoon is a word lover-whether it’s poems or songs- and I’m jealous that Princeton University gets to have him full time.
I got to interview this writer for an article I wrote for The (Shreveport) Times. Admittedly, the 12-inch story didn’t do him justice. There was so much more of my 15 minute interview with him that I wanted to write about but the only people who would care about that would be other writers. So this is my compromise, writing about the 2003 Pulitzer winner on my humble blog.
I’ll do my best.
Muldoon started writing during his mid-teens. His teacher would assign the class an essay to write every weekend. One weekend he just got tired of it.
“One weekend I wrote a poem. I was asked to read it out loud to the class,” he said.
And thus a career was born.
I think one of the overwhelming things that impressed me was that he was a wordsmith. Granted that every writer is, but Muldoon does not move from a line until it’s perfect. He’s not a draft person, he said. He finds no use in them and going sans draft is “labor-saving”
“Poetry is adventures in language,” he said. “It’s fun exposing one’s self to language.”
He admits he doesn’t spend a lot of time writing; he spends it working, spending time with family. But poems for him are spontaneous thoughts or lines or images. When one hits, he goes to work. Or rather, it works him. Writers, regardless of discipline, know this feeling well.
“A poem may come from an unlikely spot,” he said. “It has no interest in what I want to do but what it wants to do.”
Muldoon talked about that feeling while he’s creating–a high that’s more addictive than drugs.
“It’s a kinda a bug, an addiction, a disease. One gets, in a way, engaged in the world of words.”
The feeling is the same he felt as a student in his mid-teens mainly because he was encouraged to continue writing.
“That was one of those things that got me to write–the encouragement,” he said. “That is so important for writers when appropriate.”
And when is it appropriate?
“It’s appropriate most of the time. On the other hand one should not encourage people that are wasting time and money.”
My final question was about the old thought and almost stereotype of artists and the origin of their art. Is art pain? This is what he had to say:
“Sometimes, it is. Certainly pain is more intense than pleasure. The fact of the matter is we tend to be interested in sorrow rather than joy. In a strange way sorrow needs more attention. Joy is more fleeting than sorrow.”