Frolic and Detour

Paul Muldoon


Muldoon, Paul. Frolic and Detour. London, EN: Faber & Faber, 2022. Paperback: 9780571354504.


“Although Frolic and Detour is Paul Muldoon’s thirteenth book, it has all the passion and provocation we more often associate with a first collection. Ranging as it does from poems that take as their subject matter the Native American leaders Joseph Brant and Mangas Coloradas, through the Great War, the Irish Rising, hunting with eagles, the house wren, all the way to the day-to-day assault of twenty-first-century America, Frolic and Detour reminds us that the sidelong glance is the sweetest, the tangential approach the most telling. It also confirms Dwight Garner’s assessment of Selected Poems 1968–2014 in the New York Times: ‘a compact, powerful book, filled with catharses you didn’t know you needed.’”


The Great Horse of the World

“The great horse of the world stamps and champs at the bit / and lays back one ear / as I approach / from the rear / to hitch it to the world-coach, / mindful of keeping at least one hand on it / so it knows I’m still here” (3)

Encheiresin Naturae

“This was an era when pig killers, / postmistresses, and priests / were widely perceived as pillars / of society in whom the sum / of knowledge to which we might ever want to appeal / was still safely stored” (12)

Pablo Picasso: Bottle of Bass and Glass (1914)

“God had a drink or two with William Blake” (18)

1916: The Eoghan Rua Variations

“Do threascair an saol is shéid an ghaoth mar smál. / Alastram, Caesar, ‘s an méid sin a bhí ‘na bpáirt; / tá an Teamhair ‘na féar, is féach an Traoi mar tá, / is na Sasanaigh féin do b’fhéidir go bhfaighidís bás” (45)

“Now the world’s been brought low. The wind’s heavy with soot. / Alexander and Caesar. All their retinue. / We’ve seen Tara buried in grass, Troy trampled underfoot. / The English? Their days are numbered, too” (45)

“The wind blows ash now the world’s completely destroyed. / Alexander. Caesar. Each leading a mighty force. / Tara’s overgrown. Look at the cut of Troy. / With the English, things may eventually take their course” (46)

“The whole world is laid waste. Cinders flying through the air. / Caesar and Alexander and their battle-trhongs. / There’s hardly a trace of Tara. Troy’s barely there. / The English themselves will shortly be moving along” (47)

“The sky is full of coal dust. The old order’s overturned. Caesar and Alexander. Their massed hosts. / Tara was burned. Troy was burned. / One of these days the English will give up the ghost” (47)

“The world laid waste. The wind heavy with smoke. / Alexander the Great. Great Caesar. Their assorted corps. / Tara is buried under grass. Even Troy’s defences broke. In the case of the English, much the same lies in store” (48)

“The wind all smut and smoor. The world spins / out of control. Alexander and Caesar. Their gangs under grass / like Tara of the Kings. have you seen the shape Troy’s in? / As for the English, that cup, too, will pass” (49)

“The whole world’s foundering. A smoke trail tells / of the fates of Caesar, Alexander. Those who kissed their hems. / Tara’s ploughed under. Troy eventually fell. / Surely the English will get what’s coming to them?” (49)

“The air tastes of grit. The world offers no safe berth. / Tsar Alexander. The Kaiser. Their serried ranks. / Tara is debased. YOu see how deep Troy lies beneath the earth. The very English will sink as all those sank.” (50)

“The world’s topsy-turvy, though. This dust’s the dust that fanned / Caesar and Alexander as each gained ground. Tara’s under pasture. At Troy, it’s clear how things stand. / For the English, perhaps, their time will come around” (51)

July 1, 1916: With the Ulster Division

“It seems now everywhere I go there’s a trench / that’s precisely as tall and thin / as my own good self / and through which, if I march double quick, / I may yet find my way back / to bounteous Killeeshil, the bog from which I was hurled / into this bog” (56)


“My own ancestors had floated down the Danube / on a combination of a pigskin inner tube / and a somewhat overblown / sense not only of their own / expertise in cooperage and smelting copper / and telling whopper after whopper / but the intrinsic importance of things / Celtic” (87)

“Were it not for the lining of mucus / a poet’s mind, like a stomach, will happily digest itself” (88)

It Wasn’t Meant to Be Like This

“When we started into the abyss / we were meant to be in something akin to a state of bliss” (97)

Frolic and Detour

“I marked, too, how the lark and linnet / sing their psalms / in dán díreach whilst mine represent a departure / of sorts” (116)

“Just as, at the Black Cat Café and Bakery, / Tony Daou offers Thanksgiving sandwiches all year round, so wren-music / offers druids a permanent link between / this world and the one nearby” (122)

“While I drove home last night after seeing Deep Purple at Bethel Woods / it came to me in a flash that the Proto-Indo-European / dherghen lies behind both the Irish droighnean and the ‘thorn’ / in the Blackthorne Resort in East Durham. All I can do is sound the lyre, / however feebly, against the drone” (123)

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