The some-time odd jobbing band member and new poetry editor at The New Yorker magazine, Paul Muldoon, has had a busy year, but not too busy to collaborate with Irish language poet Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill on a new dual-language collection of poems, The Fifty Minute Mermaid, published by Gallery Press. Niall O’Gallagher gives the collection a glowing review in the Guardian today.
From the Guardian review
The range of Ní Dhomhnaill’s Irish in these poems is dazzling. She weaves the official speech of scholarship and religion into a lively colloquial voice that lifts the poems into the contemporary and helps them breathe. This allows Ní Dhomhnaill to bridge the gap between the mundane and the marvellous. Muldoon’s response to her poems is both attentive to his subject’s modulations in tone and consistently inventive in his use of English idiom. Muldoon’s characteristic virtuosity is also on display. In the first of the three poems that opens the collection, “Mo Mhàistir Dorcha” (“My Dark Master”), he creates a version that mirrors both the form and the content of Ní Dhomhnaill’s text:
Táimse in aimsir ag an mBás,
eadrainn tá coinníollacha tarraicthe.
Réitíomar le chéile ar feadh tréimhse
aimsire, achar roinnt bliana is lae
mr a cheapas-sa.
Bhuaileas leis ag margadh na saoire.
D’iarr sé orm an rabhas hire-áilte.
“Is maith mar a tharla; máistir ag
is cailín ag lorg máistir.”
I’ve gone and hired myself out. I’ve
hired myself out to Death.
We drew up a contract and set the
on it by spitting in our palms. I
would go with him to Lateeve
for a year and a day – at least that
was the deal
as I remember it. When I met him at
he inquired if I’d yet
been taken: “What a stroke of luck,”
“when a master who’s set on a maid
finds a maid who’s set
on a master.”
While sentence breaks tend to correspond with line and stanza breaks in Ní Dhomhnaill’s poem, Muldoon’s are less tethered to these divisions and often run across into the next verse. Perhaps a result of his attempt to echo Ní Dhomhnaill’s end-rhyme, this adds a new element to the poem, replacing the song-like cadences of her Irish with a much freer, more colloquial feel.
Elsewhere, Muldoon’s facility with English idiom brings nuances out of Ní Dhomhnaill’s texts while remaining faithful to their style and character. Sometimes he loses her concision in the attempt – “Sin dúchas dhut” is given as “That’s the power of heredity for you!” – but more often than not Muldoon uses his counterpart’s poems as the springboard for pithy poetry of his own and admirers of his work will find much to enjoy. The language is crisp and lively, the turn of phrase surprising and his vigorous attention to rhythm gives these poems real verve, made more attractive by the colloquial energy of a voice which consistently avoids glibness.