One Thousand Things Worth Knowing

This twelfth collection finds the trademark agility of Paul Muldoon’s lines imbued with a newly buoyant charm. In thirty-five sonically dense poems exploring subject matter as varied as the Civil War and zoo life, Muldoon’s imagination is like the storehouse he recalls from childhood: “jam-packed with Inglis loaves, butter, / Fray Bentos corned beef.” Perhaps inspired by Seamus Heaney, whom he eulogizes in “Cuthbert and the Otters,” a retelling of a Celtic legend, this latest book, an inquiry into miscellany, seeks a pastoral optimism to assuage the neuroses of modernity: “Though the file // is almost certainly corrupt, / we can still hope to salvage something from the raw / footage of the waterfall.” Whether eulogizing saints or fellow poets, the speakers in One Thousand Things are full of esoteric knowledge while conjuring up images of violence: “The chiastic structure of the Book of Daniel / mimics a double ax-head.” Muldoon’s accomplished facility with form and etymology also lends itself to unexpected first-person confessions: “I gave way // to a contentment / I’d not felt in years,” he writes, “not since that winter / I’d worn the world // against my skin, / worn it fur side in.”

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2015.