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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Moy Sand and Gravel

Paul Muldoon

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To purchase Moy Sand and Gravel

Title: Moy Sand and Gravel
Author: Paul Muldoon
Genre: Poetry
Written: 2002
Length: 105 pages
Availability: Moy Sand and Gravel - US
Moy Sand and Gravel - UK
Moy Sand and Gravel - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : in part fascinating, in part bewildering

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 9/11/2002 Tom Payne
The Economist . 8/2/2003 .
The Guardian A 2/11/2002 Ian Sansom
London Rev. of Books . 23/10/2003 Laura Quinney
The NY Rev. of Books . 25/9/2003 Mark Ford
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/10/2002 Peter Davison
The Times . 9/10/2002 R. Campbell-Johnston
Times Literary Supplement A 11/10/2002 Robert Macfarlane

  From the Reviews:
  • "Trying to use these tricks and still make sense is a daunting task, and I'm not convinced Muldoon always manages it." - Tom Payne, Daily Telegraph

  • "His latest book, his ninth, is about deracination and reorientation, the move, as he puts it with the emblematic adspeak so characteristic of this volume, from 'the Orchard County' to 'the Garden State'." - The Economist

  • "The book is full of the usual small juicy magnificences, and the vast farings of a literary mind, the clearly excellent but obscure intentions, the abundance, the precision, the witty superiority that readers of Muldoon have come to expect. It's all utterly bonzer, and ever so slightly bonkers." - Ian Sansom, The Guardian

  • "The poems in Moy Sand and Gravel don't differ in kind from his previous work. He has no new schemes afoot. Rather, he is striving to perfect what has been his project all along: to banish sentiment and achieve a subtler, hard-won poetic power." - Laura Quinney, London Review of Books

  • "Moy Sand and Gravel is unlikely to strike Muldoon afficionados as a great leap forward, but it still offers a number of poems that demonstrate why he is regarded by many as the most sophisticated and original poet of his generation." - Mark Ford, The New York Review of Books

  • "Moy Sand and Gravel (...) shimmers with play, the play of mind, the play of recondite information over ordinary experience, the play of observation and sensuous detail, of motion upon custom, of Irish and English languages and landscapes, of meter and rhyme. Sure enough, everything Muldoon thinks of makes him think of something else, and poem after poem takes the form of linked association." - Peter Davison, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Entranced by repetitions, by the gradual aggregations of association, the reader incorporates the slow semantic shifts that add richness and breadth and depth of meaning to a culture." - Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

  • "It takes time to implant itself, and to unfurl. 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." - Robert Macfarlane, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Paul Muldoon's poetry isn't the easiest to come to grips with. Flights of fancy, linguistic games, rhymes, schemes, and allusions that crisscross between separate collections: there's that, and there's more.
       Moy Sand and Gravel can, for better and for worse, be described as a typical Muldoon collection. There's one longer poem, to close the collection, and all sorts of shorter ones. He dabbles in haiku again, and tries his hand at other forms (sestina, terza rime) -- as well as doing ... his own thing. There are four translations (from four different languages), and two stabs at Oscar Wilde. And there's lots of Ireland, and a quite a bit of his home-away-from-home, New Jersey. There's family life (young son Asher, in particular -- one of the dedicatees of the volume).
       And, as usual in Muldoon's hands, it makes for a wild mix.
       Occasionally the language is deceptively simple -- indeed the opening sonnet ("Hard Drive") rolls along (except for the Irish place-names) easily enough:

With my back to the wall
and a foot in the door
and my shoulder to the wheel
I would drive through Seskinore.
       He shows here to what effect he can take the simplest of approaches -- it's a clever, charming poem, beautifully rounded off at the end. Elsewhere the allusiveness is more strained -- as well as more of a strain on readers.
       Still, the compact narratives are often compelling: scenes, reminiscences, encounters. Often they are neatly contrasted.
       Language, especially the playful use of rhyme, is also important throughout, with Muldoon never sticking to any set form for too long, always trying something new (or old). Among the most powerful: the simple roll of "As", a longer poem where each stanza is a litany of successions ("As naught gives way to aught / and oxhide gives way to chain mail / and " ...), always closing: "I give way to you."
       Less successful is "Famous First Words", listing what are, in fact, famous last words. A clever enough idea, it just doesn't ring right. Odd, too, the nineteen haikus, "News Headlines from the Homer Noble Farm" -- though there's some clever stuff here.
       The penultimate poem, "Cradle Song for Asher", a mere six lines, is among the best. It is followed then by the long and much more involved "At the Sign of the Black Horse, September 1999", a narrative poem centered around the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd with its extensive flooding and damage. Muldoon uses this to also look to the past and to his young son, and to his own semi-outsider standing in the family -- "the Goy from Moy" to his Jewish wife's family. It makes for a remarkable flood-river flow of people and events.

       Moy Sand and Gravel is certainly a worthwhile collection. Occasionally there is the sheer thrill of being carried along by Muldoon's language -- the metre, the rhyme. Many of the scenes also unfold nicely. The allusiveness and Irishness, on the other hand, can overwhelm. Still, most of this is fascinating stuff -- perversely fascinating, in many instances, but fascinating nonetheless.

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Moy Sand and Gravel: Reviews: Paul Muldoon: Other books by Paul Muldoon under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry under review

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About the Author:

       (Northern) Irish poet Paul Muldoon was born in 1951. He has written several collections of poetry and opera libretti. He has become a citizen of the United States and currently teaches at Princeton University and at Oxford.

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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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