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Poem On Reading Maggot

Todd Swift reviews in verse
Maggot
by Paul Muldoon

Toggam

Seeing as pastiche
Is just spray-painting a pebble to put on a beach so that
Homage to Paul Klee ends up clobbering

Cassius Clay before he altered his moniker to Mohammed
Which is a bit like moving the mountain
To Moy or a mole hill; or saying a fountain

Can’t give youth because it is Floridian, when it can –
Because Obama made miracles happen;
Or like being Irish in Japan, or a GI in Kyoto,

Mr Moto in a Honda Civic,
Privy to a music that makes critics swoon,
As if life on Mars was no microbial squirt

But gravel from the sod that Patrick flung when sick
And tired of local squabbles –
In short, if copying a king-cat lays up big baubles

In the court of St James (or is that St Paul?) –
Then plagiarism is what comes before the pride
That tips off that Satanic fall, that bedevilled Milton,

Who also had his blind side and his traditions
And the way he copied Tasso to go for baroque,
Which is a sort of jewel-encrusted squawk

One might expect from a parrot let loose at Kitty Hawk,
Flapping over the sand, mid-Atlantic
For a nano-second before being dumbstruck

And ending up as a blue, bloating drum stick,
Or a Kit Kat finger in some kingpin’s bandring,
Or a herky-jerky soda jerk milkshaking vanilla

For a thrill that would make the woman who lopped St John
From his head for a sick kill look like
A puppy playing with a bit of bark;

So sounding like a poet you’re not is like igniting a spark
That was already burning; looping ancient learning;
Unrolling dead scrolls - doh! - from their guarded dome;

Returning home got-up like St Jerome clutching a jeroboam;
Every grain that grates the oyster or grit that grists the mill
Is a million-to-one bet that your style is golden

Will run a mile in under four,
Score when most voices are more fluster than flirt,
More pay than dirt, more mustard than colonel,

More kernel than nugget, more sound than Puget,
More off than kilter, more halt that halter,
More Mitty than Walter, less witty than that altar,

On which sprawls tradition, which is most individual
When going gaga for Madonna, or seeing a Beatle in the pile;
For those deaths on the Nile were all smiles for the biro

And every kooky writer is a valet to their hero;
And no digit can green a seedbed if it is all bad;
And you can’t be indifferent when someone’s roll and rock

Has kicked sand in your soul
Like some haymaker bitch-slapped your face or KO'd
You in a boot with a sock in it: say nutting mister, nutting at all.

----

Note on the poem: Not wanting to commit the heresy of paraphrase, I hesitated to add this prose coda last night, but feverishly, I slept uneasily, and woke to want to lend some clarity to the verbal bombast of my knee-jerk poem.  The poem's argument is elliptical, and vague, but follows this line: a significant poet will have a strong signature style that will a) tempt other poets to copy; and b) will prove difficult or impossible to forge.  Milton learns from Tasso, and gets away with it, but few others can.  Muldoon's style is indelible and unique for its music and wit, and is almost bullying in its swagger.  My soul is beaten up by the power of Muldoon's style, and I end up locked in the boot of a gangster's car, silenced for trying to ape it.  The paradox is, my poem is still generated from the quandary, raising the question of how poets can and should address style in their peers.  Other themes are explored including whether Muldoon's poems are too opaque, say anything, and how they fuse Irish and international tropes.
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