Moy Sand and Gravel Poems

Paul Muldoon

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

120 Pages



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Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
Co-winner of the 2003 Griffin Poetry Prize

From "the most significant English-language poet born since the Second World War" (The Times Literary Supplement) comes a book of verse that extends from the rivery, apple-heavy County Armagh of the 1950s, where Paul Muldoon was brought up, to suburban New Jersey, on the banks of a canal dug by Irish navvies, where he now lives.

Grounded, glistening, as gritty as they are graceful, these poems seem capable of taking in almost anything, and anybody, be it a Tuareg glimpsed on the Irish border, Bessie Smith, Marilyn Monroe, Queen Elizabeth I, a hunted hare, William Tell, William Butler Yeats, Sitting Bull, Ted Hughes, an otter, a fox, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Joscelyne, an unearthed pit pony, a loaf of bread, an outhouse, a killdeer, Oscar Wilde, or a flock of redknots.

At the heart of Moy Sand and Gravel is an elegy for a miscarried child, and that elegiac tone predominates these pages, particularly in the elegant remaking of Yeats's "A Prayer for My Daughter," which concludes the book. In this long and winding—and brilliantly associative—last poem, a welter of traffic signs and slogans, along with the spirits of admen, hardware storekeepers, flimflammers, fixers, and other forebears, are borne along by a hurricane-swollen canal, and private grief coincides with some of the gravest matter of our age.


Praise for Moy Sand and Gravel

"A marvelous book; nothing human, or inhuman, is alien to it."—Andrew Motion, The Independent

"[Muldoon is] a postmodernist, ruminating on past knowledge and contemporary demotic culture while relying on the traditional verse furniture: rhyme and unreason . . . He's a riddler, enigmatic, distrustful of appearances, generous in allusion, doubtless a dab hand at crossword puzzles . . . A varied and lavish poet . . . [This] book shimmers with play, the play of mind, the play of recondite information."—Peter Davison, The New York Times Book Review

"Things happen in Paul Muldoon's poems that don't happen anywhere else—I'd call Moy Sand and Gravel the Irish version of magic realism . . . He's the best joker in English poetry since W. H. Auden . . . Muldoon sets himself impossible labors and then exceeds them. (He's a Hercules looking for chores ever more Herculean. One critic noticed that several of his long poems use the same ninety rhyme-sounds, in the same order—sometimes repeated in reverse order.) He can make a poem from his baby son, a local flood, Irish navvies, gangsters, the Chicago Black Sox, the Holocaust—all interspersed with what officials call 'signage' (PLEASE EXAMINE YOUR CHANGE, NO TURN ON RED) . . . His poems—manic, uneasy, full of themselves—are so odd you think no one could do them well; when Muldoon does them anyway, you think no one else should do them, ever again."—William Logan, The New Criterion

"Poetry, readers are often told, is meant to be read aloud. Some verse, though, begs to be sung. This is certainly the case with the work of Irish-born poet Paul Muldoon . . . There's an alliterative music to Muldoon's poetry that would put a smile on the mug of even the surliest curmudgeon. In Moy Sand and Gravel he writes of 'the ravel of straw-strain and honey-strand' in a farmer's barn, of the secrecy of looking through 'a scrim of feldspar-loaded sparge' . . . [The sounds of such words] evoke a certain meaning, which the poem's momentum carries forward through Muldoon's clever use of rhyme . . . Muldoon is more accessible than his contemporaries. His poetry has a wry, contemporary 0whimsy to it, since Muldoon draws equally from the pastoral and pop culture . . . [He is] by turns humorous and dour . . . Fanciful, brief, strong, and sprung by twinkle-eyed winks at the readers' intelligence, these poems will certainly stand the test of time, and of many readings."—John Freeman, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Daring and colloquial, enormously inventive and insistently concrete, Muldoon has a great deal more nerve, in the best sense of the word, than most of his contemporaries. Over the course of his prolific career, he has developed into one of the most interesting modern poets. Moy Sand and Gravel only further confirms his status as a virtuoso of the strangeness of the familiar, the perversity of memory, and the small but explosive collisions of history, art, and artist . . . Muldoon's small-scale vision of history as essentially personal seems at first a deliberate counter to the grand historical visions of Yeats. Fittingly, it is impossible to talk about the former without talking about the latter . . . Moy Sand and Gravel, as light, lithe, and humorous as it is, remains in the end a very serious and insightful work. As a successful follow-up to Muldoon's formidable, recently published Collected Poems 1968-1998, a reader could not ask for more."—Sam Munson, The Jerusalem Post

"His most naked and personal volume yet . . . Muldoon can be so inventive with traditional form that he transforms its restriction into liberation . . . Moy Sand and Gravel shows Muldoon at his finest."—Floyd Skloot, The Southern Review

"All this is surely versatility, indeed virtuosity . . . [Muldoon is] altogether a master of modern English verse."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"[Muldoon is] among the few significant poets of our half-century."—Tim Kendall, The Guardian

"[Muldoon] is certainly one of the most beguiling and delightful of writers. His latest book, the ninth, is about deracination and reorientation . . . Self-expression is about the last thing a Muldoon poem is for. The man is a maker and finder of patterns. [Muldoon's verse] begins with an authentically personal grammar; as T. S. Eliot is founded on rhythm, so certain construction and tenses—even the pluperfect—are Muldoon's. These then find issuance in rhyme, of which Muldoon is the outstanding contemporary practitioner. Rhyme not as convention or swank, but as the expression of a naturally crystallizing imagination. The effect is of a great web of connections, a cracking glaze which seems to run ahead of you as you read."—The Economist

"These are all poems which enunciate a stubborn refusal to be solved, and almost all work to unsteady the reader in some way—often achieving their unbalancing act through a mixture of jocularity and gravity. Those who think of Paul Muldoon as the benign, pudgy Puck of contemporary poetry, imping around with a mischievous grin on his type-face, miss the vital dimension of ethical seriousness in which his work exists."—Robert MacFarlane, Times Literary Supplement

"Following on the heels of Poems 1968-1998, Muldoon's latest volume exhibits a tantalizing mix of dichotomies. The language of rural Ireland (where he was raised) cohabits with that of a professor at both Princeton and Oxford. First, consider 'moy' in the title: the OED defines it as an adjective meaning 'mild, gentle; demure; also, affected in manners, prim,' or as a noun, meaning a 'measure for salt; bushel.' And all the words that follow are chosen with equal care for heightened ambiguity. Munificence is juxtaposed with munitions, while aunts is rhymed with taunts and fuss with orthodox, almost daring readers to roll and twist the words in their mouths. The poet convincingly joins such disparate elements as guns and butter in these narratives, using unfamiliar imagery and missing pieces, reminiscent of John Ashbery's poetry. Even when he's writing about the familiar, as in his masterly love poem 'As,' he alerts readers to new ways of seeing the world around them. The use of traditional forms might well make this book accessible to those not accustomed to reading poetry. An important purchase for all libraries."—Library Journal

"No one writes originary myths like the Irish literati, and no one's is more protean—and so more compelling—than that of Paul Muldoon."—Jenny Ludwig, Boston Review

"Muldoon is the most original Irish poet of his generation. The difficulties of his work, noted with dismay by some reviewers, derive not from a lack of readability but from the shock of finding such heterogeneous matter drawn together by so compelling and demanding a voice . . . Muldoon's voice, with its taste for meaty unpronounceables and querulous urgencies, is like no other in contemporary poetry. While it distinguishes him from his acknowledged mentor Seamus Heaney and other brilliant Irish rhetoricians, it also establishes an honoured place among them."—William Doreski, Harvard Review

"This first full volume since Muldoon's monumental Poems 1968-1998 reveals one of the English-speaking world's most acclaimed poets still at the top of his slippery, virtuosic game."—Publishers Weekly

"[Moy Sand and Gravel] is pleasant for the sheer sound of the words, for the innovative, often evocative descriptions."—Columbia Daily Spectator

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Paul Muldoon is the author of eight previous books of poetry, collected in Poems 1968-1998 (FSG, 2001). He teaches at Princeton University and is Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford.
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  • Paul Muldoon

  • Paul Muldoon is the author of eight previous books of poetry. He teaches at Princeton University and is Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford.
  • Paul Muldoon Peter Cook