Paul Muldoon: ‘There are great writers who never win anything’

The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet spoke at the Irish Times Winter Nights Festival

Paul Muldoon spoke to Irish Times columnist and Women’s Podcast presenter Róisín Ingle at the Irish Times Winter Nights Festival

Paul Muldoon spoke to Irish Times columnist and Women’s Podcast presenter Róisín Ingle at the Irish Times Winter Nights Festival

 

“I hope I don’t sound like an idiot when I say this but there are great writers who never win anything,” Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon said as he spoke at the last night of the Irish Times Winter Nights Festival on Thursday.

“What did James Joyce ever win? Absolutely nothing that I know of. He had people coming down hard on him including some of the State authorities. In that respect it doesn’t really mean anything.”

Muldoon spoke to Irish Times columnist and Women’s Podcast presenter Róisín Ingle. When asked about his Pulitzer Prize for his book Moy Sand and Gravel, he said: “It was nice to see the book honoured that way. But too often I think too much is made of prize-winning. Without diminishing it or demeaning it at all it has to be taken with a pinch of salt. I think this is true of all public acknowledgements.”

Muldoon spoke about what he called a “good” relationship with Seamus Heaney. He spoke about how Heaney helped him get published in some magazines as a young adult and described him as “a major force” in his life.

“Poems are in conversation one with another,” he said. “My father was a servant boy and one of Seamus poem’s was about a servant boy. There’s a lot of overlap in the subject matter of what Irish poets write.”

“Some of the very best poets are eight years of age,” he said. “It’s an age perfect for art making. At that age we have no idea of what we’re doing and that may seem like an odd thing to say but it happens to be a major plank in my own world picture. Not knowing what you’re doing as an 8-year-old doesn’t know, it allows one to come up with the most marvellous idea.”

'Nowadays if one goes into a restaurant, the cauliflower is on every menu. Being a cauliflower is one of the most dangerous things to be these days'

Muldoon spoke to viewers about the process and inspiration behind his new book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present with Paul McCartney. “I started meeting with Paul McCartney in 2015. I met with him half a dozen times a year for five years. We discussed in detail the background of what was happening from line to line in each of these lyrics so that was recorded and transcribed and then I edited it down into what appears in the book as a commentary. So that was the idea of the book, his commentary on what he had written.”

Muldoon had “very little books” growing up. “We had a few lives of the Saints, a junior world encyclopedia and there was a Bible in the house but we were brought up Catholic and astonishingly Catholics don’t read the Bible enough.”

“My mother was a very good and devoted teacher,” he said. “My father was a jack of all trades. He was a hired boy. He was hired out for six pounds for the six months. It’s hard to believe that in one or two generations we went from that to whatever it is we have now.”

“[My father] became a cauliflower and mushroom grower. The cauliflower is a noble animal of course. Nowadays if one goes into a restaurant, the cauliflower is on every menu. Being a cauliflower is one of the most dangerous things to be these days,” he said.

The 2022 Irish Times Winter Nights online festival – supported by Peugeot – took place from Monday, January 24th to Thursday, January 27th

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