Maggot: Poems

Maggot: Poems

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by Paul Muldoon

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Of Plan B, which included several of the poems in Maggot, Robert McCrum recently said in the London Observer that "Paul Muldoon, who has done so much to reimagine the poet's task, has surpassed himself with his latest collection." In his eleventh full-length book, Muldoon reminds us that he is a traditional poet who is steadfastly at odds with

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Of Plan B, which included several of the poems in Maggot, Robert McCrum recently said in the London Observer that "Paul Muldoon, who has done so much to reimagine the poet's task, has surpassed himself with his latest collection." In his eleventh full-length book, Muldoon reminds us that he is a traditional poet who is steadfastly at odds with tradition. If the poetic sequence is the main mode of Maggot, it certainly isn't your father's poetic sequence. Taking as a starting point W. B. Yeats's remark that the only fit topics for a serious mood are "sex and the dead," Muldoon finds unexpected ways of thinking and feeling about what it means to come to terms with the early twenty-first century. It's no accident that the centerpiece of Maggot is an outlandish meditation on a failed poem that draws on the vocabulary of entomological forensics. The last series of linked lyrics, meanwhile, takes as its subject the urge to memorialize the scenes of fatal automobile accidents. The extravagant linkage of rot and the erotic is at the heart of not only the title sequence but also many of the round songs that characterize Maggot, and has led Angela Leighton, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, to see these new poems as giving readers "a thrilling, wild, fairground ride, with few let-ups for the squeamish."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Paul Muldoon is a shape-shifting Proteus to readers who try to pin him down . . . Those who interrogate Muldoon's poems find themselves changing shapes each time he does.” —Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

“[Maggot] is filled with haunting images of decay and doom, from hares grazing dangerously on a runway to a geisha's body found on a Japanese mountain … Muldoon has recently said that he could give up poetry, but this book suggests it isn't giving up on him.” —Patricia Monaghan, Booklist

“Mr. Muldoon revels in the disorder that wriggles beneath and below even the most rigid order … His new work is a teeming infested book from a teeming, infested mind. It bucks what its author calls "this tiresome trend / towards peace and calm.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“[Maggot] is grim, grave, swashbuckling, and made from the marrow of English: there may be no more adaptable strong style in the language than Muldoon's.” —Dan Chiasson

“In Maggot … the endlessly inventive Paul Muldoon offers his usual sly puzzle disguised as poems … [Muldoon] treats themes of sex, decay and death with startling, acrobatic wit.” —Carmela Ciuraru, The Los Angeles Times

“Muldoon has been a major figure in English language poetry for decades. Despite being as established an established poet as the establishment will allow, there is the vivacity in this collection of a poet with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Maggot is a rare marriage between the frantic radical energy of a rebellious youth and the sophistication of a master of the form.” —Josh Cook, Bookslut

“The most formally ambitious and technically innovative of modern poets, he writes poems like no one else . . . [Maggot's] ingenious poems inform and explicate one another, sharing lines, imagery, even epigraphs . . . When Maggot, with a little pressure, opens up, what surfaces is a sad, acidic masterwork. It's about endings: of relationships, of lives. There's betrayal, sex, and violence (always linked in Muldoon) and the dominant trope of decomposition: cancers, sod farms, wayside shrines, even lepers . . . Maggot is enormously dexterous . . . a fine collection by one of our very finest poets.” —Nick Laird, New York Review of Books

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)

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Read an Excerpt


On my own head be it if, after the years of elocution and pianoforte,

the idea that I may have veered

away from the straight

and narrow of Brooklyn or Baltimore for a Baltic state

is one at which, all things being equal, I would demur.

A bit like Edward VII cocking his ear

at the mention of Cork. Yet it seems I've managed nothing more

than to have fetched up here.

To have fetched up here in Vilna—the linen plaids,

the amber, the orange-cap boletus

like a confession extorted from a birch,

the foot-wide pedestal upon which a prisoner would perch

on one leg in the former KGB headquarters

like a white stork

before tipping into a pool of icy water,

to be reinstated more than once by a guard with a pitchfork.

It was with a pitchfork they prodded Topsy, the elephant

that killed her keeper on Coney Island

when he tried to feed her a lit cigarette,

prodded her through Luna Park in her rain-heavy skirt

to where she would surely have been hanged by the neck

had the ASPCA not got themselves into such a lather

and Thomas Edison arrived in the nick

of time to greet the crowd he'd so long hoped to gather.

I myself have been trying to gather the dope

from a KGB surveillance tape

on the Chazon Ish, “the wisest Jew alive,” a master of the catchall

clause who was known to cudgel

his brains in a room high in a Vilna courtyard

on the etymology of “dork”

while proposing that the KGB garotte

might well be a refinement of the Scythian torc.

The Scythian torc had already been lent a new lease

of life as the copper wire with which Edison would splice

Topsy to more than 6,000 volts of alternating current,

though not before he'd prepared the ground

with a boatload of carrots laced with cyanide.

This was 1903. The year in which Edward VII paid

out a copper line from his mustachioed snout

to the electric chair where Edison himself was now belayed.

Now a belayed, bloody prisoner they've put on the spot

and again and again zapped

is the circus rider on a dappled

croup from which he's more than once toppled

into the icy water, spilling his guts

about how his grandfather had somehow fetched up in Cork

straight from the Vilna ghetto,

having misheard, it seems, “Cork” for “New York.”

For New York was indeed the city in which the floor teetered

at a ball thrown in 1860 in honor of Edward

(then Prince of Wales), the city in which even I may have put

myself above all those trampled underfoot,

given my perfect deportment all those years I'd skim

over the dying and the dead

looking up to me as if I might at any moment succumb

to the book balanced on my head.

Excerpted from Maggot by Paul Muldoon.

Copyright © 2010 by Paul Muldoon.

Published in 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Meet the Author

Paul Muldoon is the author of ten books of poetry, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Moy Sand and Gravel (FSG, 2002) and, most recently, Horse Latitudes (FSG, 2006). He teaches at Princeton University.

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