Paul Muldoon has many impressive credits to his name. In addition to his role as the Howard G.B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities, he served as the founding chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts, where he is a professor of creative writing. He’s also a renowned poet who won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his collection "Moy Sand and Gravel."
Among Princeton students, however, he’s also known for his approachability and enthusiasm for teaching. “Connecting with students is very important,” Muldoon explains. “I prefer having conversations across a table rather than from some supposedly lofty position.”
As he explains, his style of teaching “has to do more with conversation than declamation,” and requires that he listen and respond more than lecture. “I learn from my students,” he says.
For students, that means being ready to go one-on-one with Muldoon as they work through the intricacies of a work of literature, or even finding their own works subjected to the award-winning poet’s discerning eye in one of his classes in the creative writing program. “I try to honor the possibility that a student’s work is as likely to be ‘literature’ as it would be if it were written by Shakespeare.”
As the inaugural chair of Princeton’s new Lewis Center for the Arts, Muldoon will have the opportunity to offer a similar kind of engagement with the arts to students from all parts of campus. Muldoon takes very seriously the center’s mission to make the arts integral to the Princeton experience. “It's important that students be exposed to the process of making and performing art,” he explains. That exposure, he believes “will inform their sense of themselves and their sense of themselves in the world.”
The center also will provide exciting opportunities for students who choose to specialize in the arts. “For those who come here to be involved in making or performing art, they'll have an extraordinary experience,” he says.
Beyond the classroom and outside the center, Muldoon has yet one more outlet for artistic expression, and an unorthodox one at that. As a member of Rackett, a rock band he formed with another faculty member and other local musicians, he has started a sideline career as a rock musician and pop songwriter. The band has taken off, making a recording and playing gigs at clubs in New York.
Muldoon himself sees his twin roles as poet and pop lyricist as fundamentally allied. “I make no great distinction about what’s happening in a song in a Shakespeare play and what is happening in a song written by Paul Simon or Leonard Cohen,” he says. “If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it should be good enough for the rest of us.”