Over the past twenty years Paul Muldoon has taken his place as one of the more important current poets. Although his work is still most often considered in the context of Irish literature in general and Ulster poetry in particular, he has long since received much broader recognition. By conjoining lyric and narrative voices, by making the most of the polyglot nature of English as spoken and written in Ireland and by interweaving disparate literary traditions, Paul Muldoon has to some extent achieved what Mikhail Bakhtin claimed was impossible: he has constructed a "hybrid," multiple-voiced poetic language, a dialogized language that is both difficult and extremely effective (Bakhtin 327-29). Like other post-modern writers before him, Muldoon revels in this polyglossia, this carnival of language that eschews closure and that favors disjunction over consonance.
Perhaps the most revealing examples of this language play can be found in what Frazier calls Muldoon's "reinvention of the long poem" (131). Certainly many full-length studies will be necessary to discuss language and politics in these long poems which conjoin lyric and narrative forms: "Immram," which concludes Paul Muldoon's 1980 volume of poems, Why Brownlee Left, "The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants," which concludes the 1983 volume, Quoof, "7, Middagh Street," which concludes the 1987 volume, Meeting the British, the 1991 volume Medoc, which is both a collection of short poems and a sustained mock-epic poetic novel, and the long fantasy "Yarrow" which dominates the 1994 volume, The Annals of Chile. Rather than attempt a sketchy overview of all of these poems, I will concentrate here on the work of the early 'eighties. Both "Immram" and "The More a Man Has" are marvelously self-conscious explorations of language in general and of the vagaries of the English language as spoken and written in Ireland in particular. In fact, the author himself has claimed that "in so far as ["The More a Man Has"] is about anything, the poem is about the use or abuse of the English language in Ireland" ("New Books" 118). This claim suggests that Muldoon's interest is solely structural or semiological and that "The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants" in particular and all of his poems in general present the codes that form the basis of Hiberno-English. Muldoon is, in fact, doing a great deal more than his claim suggests. From the introduction early in the volume of a personal language represented by the word "Quoof," Muldoon's childhood term designating a hot water bottle, to the Armagh slang, the borrowing from Scottish English, the American cliches, the numerous puns, and the comical and seemingly incongruous literary allusions, Muldoon pushes the limits of traditional usage, traditional juxtapositions and traditional "meaning." The result is a masterpiece of multi-leveled parody. It is not the language paradigm that interests Muldoon, but the undermining of the paradigm. This was equally true of the earlier narrative "Immram," in which Muldoon intertwines his own life with Raymond Chandler novels and ancient Irish voyage sagas.
Although discussions of canon formation and what Bakhtin calls writers' "ideological horizons" are currently fashionable, a common by-product of canon expansion is the ghettoization of writers. In Muldoon's case, he is a member of the Ulster Movement, one of "the younger Irish Poets," and one of the major Irish poets who have been influenced primarily by Joyce rather than by Yeats. Accurate as this classification is, and important as Irish history, politics and literary tradition are to Muldoon's work, he has shown himself to be much more than a regional poet. What we might call the First Wave of Muldoon criticism has concentrated on defining the poet's place among other Irish poets. Hence we have Adrian Frazier's study of poems by Paulin and Muldoon, Mary DeShazer's review of texts by Muldoon and Michael Longley, Edna Longley's erudite studies comparing Muldoon to MacNeice, Kennelly, Durcan, Heaney, Mahon and others, John Drexel's comparison of Muldoon, Carson and McGuckian, Richard Brown's study of Heaney and Muldoon's use of puns, as well as Dillon Johnston's important early overview.
Many of these studies concentrate on Muldoon's unique use of language, but it is the Next Wave of criticism, no longer constrained by the necessity to establish Muldoon's place among other Irish writers, that has the luxury of comparing Muldoon to Muldoon and of creating a dialogue about his use of language. William A. Wilson, Kathleen McCracken, Richard Kirkland, Clair Wills and John Goodby are among those who concentrate on works by Muldoon. In her discussion of the incongruity between Muldoon's professed desire to control readings of his poems and his "continual destruction of the syntagmatic relations," Clair Wills outlines one important line of inquiry: "Significantly, the authority of the reader in determining meaning also includes the ability to discover political readings, i.e. linguistic polysemousness need not necessarily increase the 'hermeticism' of the poetry but can equally encourage socially 'responsible readings'" (130-31).
Rather than focusing readers' attention solely on the troubles of one young narrator or the "troubles" in Northern Ireland, "Immram" and "The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants" universalize the troubles, transforming them into a metonymy for the uncertainties and discontinuities that we all face. Likewise, Muldoon's narratives "tell" localized "stories" in order to explore the language of poetic story-telling. To convey some idea of the complexity and the virtuosity of these long narrative poems and to find a way to approach Muldoon's appropriations from Irish, American and British traditions, I have chosen some of the concepts outlined by Mikhail Bakhtin as the theoretical foundation of my study. In the essay "From the Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse," Bakhtin demonstrates that Latin parody is "a bilingual phenomenon" and so is an "intentional hybrid." He explains that "although there is only one language, this language is structured and perceived in the light of another language, and in some instances not only the accents but also the syntactical forms of the vulgar language are clearly sensed in the Latin parody" (75). The application of this theory to our example of a particular Hiberno-English parody becomes clearer when Bakhtin goes on to explain:
every type of intentional stylistic hybrid is more or less dialogized. This means that the languages that are crossed in it relate to each other as do rejoinders in a dialogue; there is an argument between languages, an argument between styles of language . . ., between points of view. (76)
My task here is to determine what Muldoon's styles and points of view are, i.e. what exactly is being parodied and how this parody is achieved.
Again, Muldoon himself provides us with our cue. In an interview published in 1985, Muldoon agrees that he is subverting lyric and narrative conventions, undermining or deconstructing …