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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

17 - Telling tales: Kennelly's Cromwell and Muldoon's ‘The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants’


Brendan Kennelly's Cromwell appeared to variously astonished and ­celebratory reviews in Dublin in 1983. Since then, despite its republication in England in 1987, it has attracted surprisingly little critical attention. Perhaps there was something overwhelming about its obsessional tones, its urgent formal repetitions, its piling of horror on horror, its Blakean raid on the palace of wisdom by the road of excess, which has not allowed it to appeal to the critical intelligence with its taste for allusive uncertainties, irony, structural niceties and the aesthetic frisson. The poem therefore has enjoyed to date a curious kind of critical half-life, reckoned the work in which Kennelly achieved a breakhrough from being a poet of minor lyric successes (in itself a misreading of his earlier work) to being a poet with something altogether more significant to say, and simultaneously as a work which does not require sustained analysis or exacting attention. It is absorbed into critical comprehension as a work of shock effects, video nasty sensationalism, scarifyingly explicit violence and bold, rhetorical drama. Seamus Heaney in nominating Cromwell as one of his books of 1983 in the Dublin-published Sunday Tribune newspaper encapsulated this general critical consensus when he spoke of ‘a sense of an outbreak’. An outbreak is certainly hard to pin down, is critically difficult to contain and tends to lack apologists and sponsors.

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Kennelly, B., Cromwell (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 1987), p. 17
Muldoon, Paul in interview with John Haffenden, in Haffenden, J. (ed.), Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1981), pp. 141–2
Muldoon, P., ‘Paul Muldoon Writes’, The Poetry Society Bulletin, 118 (Autumn 1983), 1
MacNeice, L., Varieties of Parable (Cambridge University Press, 1965), p. 8
Muldoon, P., Quoof (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1983)
Frost, R., Complete Poems (London: Jonathan Cape, 1967), pp. 252–3