Frolic and Detour is steeped in Irish martial memory, studded with familiar and unlikely totems of past conflicts, from Viking halberds to the common walnut. There’s a recurring sense of betrayal, of unfavourable odds, rupture and exploitation – Charles Stewart Parnell is invoked on the threshing floor as “the uncrowned / King of Ireland”, but he is muscled out in the course of the book by a host of other leaders, lost or otherwise, not least El Cid, conflated here with another head of the tribe, Seamus Heaney, and Mangas Coloradas, a Native American who “hadn’t allowed for … a pair of howitzers / bringing up the rear”
Frolic and Detour is a perfect title: there’s plenty of both in this new collection from Ireland’s most ingenious poet. Paul Muldoon brings centuries of knowledge to anything his eye settles on. How else to deal with “A world that now makes sense/ only in our rear-view mirror”? You may have to brush up on alchemy, Apache chieftains and the Easter Rising...
For the most part, though, Frolic and Detour is a treat. Baroque rhyme glues the bric-a-brac together, making each poem more than the sum of its eclectic parts. He finds the perfect symbol for his technique in the cloud coughed up by an Icelandic volcano:
“Since it’s for the most part
Composed of vitreous ash, silica,
Ferrous oak gall,
resentment, griefs, squabbles and squalls
It may yet enthrall
The plane’s state-of-the-art
Combustion chamber, clogging the engine with molten glass
The way a poem may yet stop the heart.”
If you buy one book of poetry this year, make it this one. Although you might learn to appreciate the nuance of how contemporary poetry can be askance and awry, you shall come away with a kind of moral polish. It is not “difficult”; that curse word of modern poetry. Take for example just this: “Now we’re known less for snipers’ nests / than nests of singing birds”.