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Short Take on Paul Muldoon Talking, a Précis

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Paul Muldoon was interviewed by John Freeman on stage at the Waterfront Theatre at the Vancouver International Writers Festival this afternoon, and he’ll be reading as one of eight poets at the Poetry Bash tonight at Performance Works on Granville Island. He was asked right off the bat to talk about his collaboration with Warren Zevon, which resulted in a song, “My Ride’s Here,” the title track on Zevon’s last record (and was then covered for a posthumous tribute album by none other than Bruce Springsteen). Mr Muldoon said he “kind of went to school with Warren Zevon,” noting “just how difficult it is to write a song” to make it sound so effortless, and praising Zevon’s genius. He found himself, in composing his lyrics, trying to locate a raw, emotional “angle of entry” into a song. Asked to differentiate between poetry and song, he said:  “I suppose at some level the pressure per square inch in that [Muldoon’s lyric, ‘You Say You’re Just Hanging Out . . .’] isn’t quite what it could be in one of the poems.” At the same time, he said how he wants to realize his own desire for directness and clarity, which lyrics can so better “at some level.” He said he was still “struck by Seamus Heaney’s (I think) successful attempts to pick up Yeats’s suggestion that ‘Myself I must remake,'” and also declared that “poems are more evidently (not necessarily more truly) made out of the core of one’s being.” He described the impact of BBC radio on his desire for clarity and “the need to be direct.” At John Freeman’s request, he read “Wind and Tree” from his first collection: “In the way that most of the wind / Happens where there are trees, / Most of the world is centred / About ourselves.” He read from Madoc, noting as well that he was a “big fan of our friend Laurence Sterne” and how he had also derived a “fascination with lists” from Robinson Crusoe, Defoe’s interest in “stuff.” He said he encouraged his students to develop “a sense of the resonances of every word in a poem,” the specificity of language. He read his song-lyric, “Elephant Anthem,” and noted how he used to pore over lyrics printed on lp sleeves.


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