Paul Muldoon Awarded Queen’s Gold Medal

POETRY AND POLITICS: Paul Muldoon, Princeton University professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts and director of the Princeton Atelier, has been approved by Queen Elizabeth II for the award of Her Majesty’s Gold Medal for Poetry for 2017. Muldoon said his award was an acknowledgment of both “the impact of a few of my poems” and of the current positive relations between Ireland and England. (Photo by Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite 2017)

By Donald Gilpin

Paul Muldoon, Princeton University creative writing professor in the Lewis Center for the Arts and director of the Princeton Atelier, will be awarded Her Majesty’s Gold Medal for Poetry for 2017 by Queen Elizabeth II in an upcoming ceremony. 

A native of Ireland, Muldoon is only the second Irish poet to be honored with the award in its 83-year history, after Michael Longley in 2001. Muldoon has lived mainly in the United States for the past 30 years, teaching at Princeton since 1987 and serving as The New Yorker poetry editor since 2007. He has published 13 books of poetry and won many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.

The Poetry Medal Committee recommended Muldoon for the award on the basis of the body of his work. “Paul Muldoon is widely acclaimed as the most original and influential poet of the past 50 years and is rightly celebrated alongside Seamus Heaney,” said Britain’s Poet Laureate Dame Carol Ann Duffy, according to the Irish Times. “His poetry displays a restful playful brilliance, forever searching for new ways to channel his ideas and new language to dress them in. He is ambitious, erudite, witty, and musical. He can experiment with form and stand tradition on its head, craft a tender elegy or intimate love poem with equal skill. His work is of major significance internationally С poetry of clarity, invention, purpose, and importance which has raised the bar of what’s possible in poetry to new heights.”

Muldoon described the award as a recognition of his poetry and also of the favorable political climate between England and Ireland.

“I take this award to be an acknowledgment of the impact of a few of my poems, of course,” he wrote in a email. “I’ve been writing for 50 years now. Much of the time I think my poems are rubbish. That’s one of the curses of being a writer. From time to time I wonder if they might be okay. This is one of those times.”

Emphasizing the significance of the political context, he continued, “This award is also an acknowledgment of the complexity of Anglo-Irish affairs and an indicator of what are, just now, excellent
relations between Ireland and the UK. Fifty years ago it would have been difficult for someone of my background — Northern Irish Catholic with Irish Nationalist leanings — to have countenanced accepting the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry. I’m sure that, along the way, some have raised an eyebrow at my having worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation or being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.”

Muldoon mentioned landmark visits by Queen Elizabeth II to Belfast in 2012 and to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 as marks of the context of a new openness in relations, and referred to a “post-Nationalist component to all of this.”

He added, “Because of the very particular circumstances of Northern Ireland as a territory of the United Kingdom and a territory to which the Republic of Ireland has also, until recently, laid claim, I’m entitled to hold both UK and Irish passports. I’m also a proud U.S. citizen, just to throw that into the mix. So, in addition to being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, I’m coincidentally a member of Aosdana (The Irish Academy of Artists) and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. I like to think that one may actually be all these at once and seem less an anomaly than an emblem of the world, being, as Louis MacNeice puts it, ‘crazier and more of it than we think.’”