Notable poet and current poetry editor of The New Yorker Paul Muldoon spoke to a full room in Devlin Hall last night, the latest event in the Lowell Humanities Series, presented in collaboration with Poetry Days.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet had previously visited Boston College in 2003, and this time organizers had to shuffle the massive crowd to a larger lecture hall to accommodate the hundreds in attendance.
Following fellow New Yorker contributor Katherine Boo’s visit to campus earlier this month, Muldoon returned to read some of his own work, which reflects on his time growing up in rural Ireland, his days spent adjusting to the American way of life, and his children. Earlier in the afternoon, the poet met informally with students and faculty for a colloquium in McElroy.
Introduced on Wednesday evening by Burns scholar Peter Fallon as “a master of contemporary language and reference in patterns he constantly redefines,” Muldoon opened the evening with a poem called “Cuba,” a work he described as incredibly timely due to his impending sense that “life as we know it is not going to continue much longer.”
“I know a poetry reading is not the way we would all choose to spend our evenings,” he said solemnly, before thanking the crowd for doing just that.
Moving sequentially, the poet read from works about his childhood in rural Northern Ireland, focusing on the years when his mother taught at the primary school he attended. “It’s about ‘mitchers,’ which are like truants,” Muldoon said. “Like those who don’t attend poetry readings.”
Stepping out from behind the podium, Muldoon changed the tone of the evening when he broke into “Elephant Anthem,” a song that he claimed “simply had to exist.” Untethered, he strode about the room and explained pieces of his work to elucidate its meaning, pausing to describe the concept of a “drive-in, not in the sense of a restaurant, but that of a movie.”
Concluding the evening with a few poems about his house in New Jersey-one that he mentioned had been standing since the late 18th century-Muldoon drew comparisons between the refrain of a poem and that of a home itself before opening it up to audience participation. The crowd joined in on the choruses of “The Loaf,” the room echoing with variations of the phrase “with a pink and a pink and a pinkie-pick.”
After reading several more of his own pieces, including one about the first documented conjoined twins, and another about the rise and fall of an unnamed rock group, Muldoon opened up the floor to “observations, queries, and complaints” from students, during which he discussed the very odd nature of a poetry reading to the poets who must participate in them.
“One doesn’t want to turn into a standup comic or anything like it,” Muldoon said before offering his tie to a student who had complimented his outfit.
The Lowell Humanities Series will continue on Oct. 30 when novelist and journalist Susan Choi will read selections from her upcoming, as-yet-untitled novel.