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One Poem
By Paul Muldoon


Poet's Choice

By Robert Hass
February 21, 1999

Irish haiku? Irish haiku in New Jersey? Paul Muldoon is an Irish poet of the next generation after Seamus Heaney. Every generation has to clear a space to make itself heard, and Muldoon's way to clear a space in a tradition that includes William Butler Yeats, a visionary and urbane poet, and Patrick Kavanaugh, an earthy country poet, and Seamus Heaney, whom some have said is a perfect fusion of the two impulses, was to write a different poetry altogether, witty, cosmopolitan, playful and postmodern. Lately Muldoon has been teaching at Princeton, and his latest book, "Hay," contains a sequence of haiku, mostly set in New Jersey. Muldoon's way with the form is to observe the syllable count – five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables – and to rhyme the first and last line. Here's a taste:

Hopewell Haiku


The door of the shed

open-shuts with the clangor

of red against red.


A muddle of mice.

Their shit looks like caraway

but smells like allspice.


A stone at its core,

this snowball's the porcelain

knob on winter's door.


Snow up to my shanks.

I glance back. The path I've hacked

is a white turf bank.


Pennons in pine woods

where the white-tailed stag and doe

until just now stood.


For most of a week

we've lived on a pot of broth

made from pig's cheek.


A mare's long white face.

A blazed tree marking a trail

we'll never retrace.


Jean stoops to the tap

set into a maple's groin

for the rising sap.


The Canada geese

straighten a pantyhose seam,

press a trouser crease.

– And so through the year. He ends with the maple tree again:


The maple's great cask

that once held so much store

now yields a hip flask.

From "Hay," by Paul Muldoon. Copyright 1998 by Paul Muldoon. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Robert Hass, former U.S. poet laureate, is the author, most recently, of the collection "Sun Under Wood."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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