Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK


'We have forgotten how to read poetry'

Paul Muldoon: "Poetry continues to have its force in the world"

Paul Muldoon, the man who on Monday night became Oxford University's latest professor of poetry, has said that people have forgotten how to read verse.

Paul Muldoon: "It is quite daunting"
The 47-year-old Irishman, who lives and works in the United States, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that readers are not educated to enjoy poetry.

He said the perception that some poets lived in "ivory towers" came about because people do not have enough background in the form to be able to understand new poems.

He said: "One of the difficulties of reading contemporary peotry is that, frankly, so few people do read it - so few people are educated in reading it.

Not enough poetry read

"When we come to look at the latest movie or listen to the latest compact disc, we have been educated in a way that we're not even concious of in viewing a movie and listening to music.

"Whereas, when most of us come to reading a new poem, the truth is that it is the first poem we have read for 10 or maybe 20 years.

"We are always surprised at some level if it does make sense.

[ image: Seamus Heaney was Mr Muldoon's university tutor]
Seamus Heaney was Mr Muldoon's university tutor
"It is a dead give-away when someone comes up to a poet and gives a sigh for the days when poetry used to rhyme, when it made sense.

"The dead give-away is that that person really hasn't read a poem for 10 or 20 years.

"One has to be in the habit of reading to be able to read, it is as simple as that."

Mr Muldoon follows the likes of WH Auden and Robert Graves to take up the Oxford post.

Unopposed for chair

He takes up the reins from James Fenton, and was the only candidate in living memory to be appointed unopposed to the chair, which at times in the 1970s and 80s had been fiercely contested.

The chair has traditionally been seen as an alternative to the poet laureateship, and involves giving three lectures a year for a salary of £4,695.

The son of a schoolteacher and a labourer, Mr Muldoon was educated at his local grammar school, where he was introduced to the Irish language and poetry.

He learned the Faber Book of Modern Verse 'more or less off by heart', and at the age of 17, started writing poetry.

At Queen's University in Belfast, Seamus Heaney became his tutor and helped him to publish some of his work.

[ image: The death of poet laureate Ted Hughes has put the spotlight on poetry]
The death of poet laureate Ted Hughes has put the spotlight on poetry
After graduating in the early 1970s, he went to work as a reporter, and then a TV producer at BBC Belfast, and following the death of his father, he moved to the US.

He and his wife, the poet Jean Hanff Korelitz, have one daughter, Dorothy Aoife, and are expecting another child imminently.

Since 1990, he has been the director of the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University.

He has been awarded various literary prizes including the Sir Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award in 1991, the TS Eliot Award for The Annals of Chile in 1994, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature in 1996, and the Irish Times Irish Literature Prize for his New Selected Poems.

'Every moment is a moment for poetry'

He is the president of the Poetry Society in Britain, and is also known - especially in the US - for writing operas.

He told the Today programme that following the death of Ted Hughes, and the ensuing speculation over who would suceed him as poet laureate, means that there is currently a special focus on poetry.

But he added: "I think, frankly, that every moment is a moment for poetry. Poetry continues to have its force in the world."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Entertainment Contents

TV and Radio
New Media

Relevant Stories

11 Jan 99 | Entertainment
Hughes up for poetry prizes

Internet Links

Paul Muldoon pages

Shining Brow

Oxford University

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.