Book: Horse Latitudes
Author: Paul Muldoon
Rating: * * * * *
The title of Paul Muldoon’s most recent collection refers to the area north and south of the equator where wind becalms, threatening ships with immobility and stagnation. Traditionally, the crew would throw horses overboard to conserve food, hence the title. Muldoon is notorious for the obtuse nature of his work, but the referencing required to tease out his meaning is a kind of exploration itself, as the poet recovers words and concepts of neglected or forgotten richness.
The opening sonnet sequence, “Horse Latitudes”, gives a feel for the rest of the collection, choosing the sites of battles both historic and contemporary, playing some astonishing word-games while retaining a thoroughly disarming sense of humour. “Hedge School” displays his emotional strength, as the poet navigates his family history after learning of his sister’s cancer: the poem lands on the crushing rhyme of ‘sis’ and ‘metastasis’.
Horse Latitudes is a gripping point of access to a body of poetry that deserves attention.