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Poet Paul Muldoon gets an encore: Now that's rock 'n' roll

Paul Muldoon, 101 The Redeemer

By Michael Conaghan

At the Belfast Festival a few years ago, Clive James enthused about this Irish poet in an unmistakably Australian manner: "Paul Muldoon - what a b******."

Muldoon might appreciate the compliment, but last night at The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival there was the serious business of reading from his new collection, One Thousand Things Worth Knowing.

If the candlelit ambience was to create reverence, he wasn't having any of it. He opened with Dodgems, a Portrush-set rite of passage poem delivered in a soft, compelling, manner. Muldoon is not a poet who needs to declaim. The words and performance draw you in.

Even darker material like At Least They Weren't Speaking French invested family tragedy with black comedy, and Muldoon's unique facility to jumpstart connections was probably best demonstrated in Recalculating. He read Ear Is To Grasshopper/As China Is To DDT, as he said, for the craic. Muldoon is a mobile performer, dancing round the audience as his poetry dances round ideas.

Immersion in rock culture has always differentiated him from other Northern Irish poets, illustrated here by Comeback. He almost crooned its morality tale of the rise, fall, and partial resurrection of a band, even urging us to catch Wilko Johnson after the reading. If he had plans in that direction they were delayed by that most rock 'n' roll thing, an encore.

Four stars

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