Madoc: A Mystery

Madoc: A Mystery

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990
Faber and Faber, 1990

ISBN: 978-0374523442
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"In ruggedly lyric segments joined in quasi-narrative style, Irish poet Muldoon--now teaching at Princeton--vigorously reinvests America's frontier wilderness with British and Celtic shenanigans. The Tudor myth informing this invigorating invention is that of Madoc, a Welsh, hotheaded adventurer prince said to have discovered America in the 12th century and begotten the "Welch Indians." The Northwest Madoc tribes, appearing in the poem, were once considered proof. And Thomas Jefferson quaffs Medoc, puns Muldoon, who titles each piece of the preponderant Part II with the name of a famed thinker (e.g., Thales, Diderot, Marx) from antiquity to the present. Under such dignified rubrics the main characters, poets Coleridge and Southey (himself author of a Madoc , a romantic verse epic), cavort with feathered Indians. (The actual emigration scheme of both poets to create a commune or "Pantisocracy" in America failed to materialize.) Included are passages from explorers Lewis and Clark, to avoid ambiguity painter and ethnographer George Catlin and poet Byron. The brief introductory "Part I," in a contemporary mode, includes images of containers bobbing in the water--a bathyscope, tea chests, a briefcase. The valise and "portmanteau" images resurface often to suggest current poetic forms as envelopes of the past." - Publishers Weekly

"Legend has it that the Welsh prince Madoc came to America 300 years before Columbus and sired a line of Welsh-speaking Indians. Six hundred years later, English Romantic poets Coleridge and Robert Southey (poet laureate and author of the epic Madoc) were planning a utopian community on the banks of America's Susquehanna. While Southeyopolis never materialized--Southey and Coleridge had a falling out--Irish poet Muldoon invents its story, weaving into it bits of Lewis & Clark's expeditions, Burr's treason, Byron's sexual exploits, a search for the lost Welsh tribe, and more. The short sections of verse slip deftly in and out of rhyme. The story, spun from a retinagraph of the right eyeball of an unreliable narrator named South, is, in the poet's words, "at once impenetrable and clear." Witty and razor-sharp, if at times frustrating in its deconstructions, this book will appeal to readers interested in language, empire building, and art. Recommended for academic collections." - Library Journal

"One of the best in a generation of Northern Irish poets born since World War II, Mr. Muldoon has come to be known for . . . a witty, subversive instinct that undermines clichés, truisms, eternal verities, and his own previous sentences . . . Madoc is an outré movie spectacular . . . a tour de force." - Lucy McDiarmid, The New York Times Book Review

"More than language—and no one who loves words can fail to be amazed by Muldoon—there is Madoc's story . . . Muldoon's magic consists of lifting Southey's shrewdly calculating apostasy off the pages he wrote and transporting it, full-blown, to a vulgar, brawling, optimistic America —an America that of course remains in the warp and woof of the immediate one." - Geoffrey Stokes, The Village Voice

"Muldoon's reinvention of himself as an American writer is a source of vast entertainment. Madoc is also, though, a profoundly Irish book . . . Muldoon shows us a mind at work, teasing, improvising, listening, reading, loving, and his apparently impersonal narrative turns out to be a winning self-portrait. It is a dazzling achievement." - Lachlan MacKinnon, Times Literary Supplement

"What takes the reader through the poem is pleasure and puzzlement in roughly equal measure . . . Essentially, [Muldoon] is taking his style for a walk, and the style is mesmerizing . . . Every reading—and still, more, every new bit of information—makes Madoc a cleverer and more imposing piece of work . . . [Muldoon is] one of the most metaphoric poets alive, in whom words and facts and things themselves are . . . comprehensively and gracefully destabilized." - Michael Hofmann, London Review of Books