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BOOK REVIEWS The Annals of Chile, by Paul Muldoon, pp. 189, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994, $21.00 At the very end of Paul Muldoon’s 1994 poetic journal, The Prince of the Quotidian , a mysterious Wgure admonishes the poet for his diary-book, telling him: “Who gives a shit about the dreck / of your life?” and “leave oV your laundry-lists and tax-returns / and go back to making metaphors” (40). The book ends with the mysterious Wgure urging him to “atone / for everything you’ve said and done / against your mother” (41). In The Annals of Chile, dedicated to the memory of the poet’s mother, Brigid Regan, Muldoon seems to respond to the Wgure’s charges with a masterful collection. Muldoon’s skill at writing accomplished long poems, and the masterful elegy “Incantata,” make The Annals of Chile a powerful contribution to contemporary Irish poetry, and show Paul Muldoon to be one of the Wnest poets writing in English today. In structure, The Annals of Chile resembles Madoc: A Mystery (1991), with some shorter poems in Part One and a long poem in Part Two. This newest collection begins with a translated version of a piece of Book VI of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a departure for Muldoon, who has done very little such work other than of his Wne collaborations with Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill. Muldoon puts his distinctive stamp on the translation with his precise language, imaginative rhymes, and skillful use of clichés and slang. Several poems in Part One, including “Brazil,” “Oscar,” and “Milkweed and Monarch,” concern the poet’s mother, but even though the collection is dedicated to her memory, the memory of other loved ones, as well as memory itself, are more central to Annals. Even in “Milkweed and Monarch,” when the poet’s persona is at his parents’ grave, the memory of a former lover proves stronger: Why should he be stricken with grief, not for his mother and father, but a woman slinking from the fur of a sea-otter in Portland, Maine, or yes, Portland, Oregon . . . (10) The reference to the woman in Portland, Maine or Oregon, connects this poem to Part Two, in which this woman, S—, is an important character. BOOK REVIEWS 188 Powerful memories of another former lover, Mary Farl Powers, form the basis for the elegy, “Incantata,” one of the Wnest poems of Muldoon’s career. In this three-hundred-and-sixty-line poem at the center of Part One, the poet sustains a high emotional energy throughout the poem. One technique, Muldoon’s creation of completely original, complex, polysemous metaphors, is manifested in his use of the “army-worms,” which retain their meaning as the real insects “that so clouded the sky over St. Cloud,” but which develop into Wgures for the lover’s spotted appearance , her cancer, her lithographic work, Muldoon’s own potato prints (reproduced on the book jacket), and perhaps for painful experiences which can overwhelm our memories of loved ones and enjoyable events. Several other Muldoon trademarks, such as fresh diction and up-to-date syntax , often including clichés or slang, which manage to be lyrical and realistic, also sustain “Incantata.” Muldoon often combines more traditional poetic diction with colloquial (or even coined) words and phrases to great poetic eVect, as in the Wrst stanza of the poem: “as I X-Actoed from a sput the Inca / glyph for a mouth” (13), or “the idea of your spirit hanging over this vale / of tears like a jump-suited jumpjet whose vapour-trail / unravels a sky” (20). Muldoon often uses clichés such as “shaking like a leaf,” “right as rain,” “your back to the wall,” in new ways, and integrates them in such a way that they do not seem out of place. In addition to these skillful techniques, which are evident in much of his other recent poetry, Muldoon uses repeated phrases such as “I thought of you again tonight” and “you must have known” to unify the mass of references to speciWc shared experiences, including works of art both lover and poet enjoyed, into a brisklymoving , emotionally-charged work of art. These phrases allow the poet to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 188-190
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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