Extraordinary Rendition — Paul Muldoon

Dylan Niemann and Manuel Sherbakoff
English 150
Wednesday 4 December 2013, 5 p.m. section

Selected text

I gave you back my claim on the mining town
and the rich vein we once worked,
the tumble down
from a sluice box that irked

you so much, the narrow gauge
that opened up to one and all
when it ran out at the landing stage
beyond the falls.

I gave you back oak ties,
bully flitches, the hand-hewn crossbeams
from which hung hardtack

in a burlap bag that, I'd surmise,
had burst its seams
the last night we lay by the old spur track.


You gave me back your frown
and the most recent responsibility you'd shirked
along with something of your renown
for having jumped from a cage just before it jerked

to a standstill, your wild rampage
shot through with silver falderals,
the speed of that falling cage
and the staidness of our canyon walls.

You gave me back lake skies,
pulley glitches, gully pitches, the reflected gleams
of two tin plates and mugs in the shack,

the echoes of love sighs
and love screams
our canyon walls had already given back.

Vocabulary (from Merriam-Webster)

  1. a side of cured meat; especially a side of bacon
  2. a longitudinal section of a log/ a slab of timber cut from a tree trunk
  1. foolish language, behavior, or ideas
  2. a useless ornament or accessory
  3. nonsense
  1. a saltless hard biscuit, bread, or cracker
  2. any of several mountain mahoganies
a trench which was originally worn in the earth by running water and through which water often runs after rains
  1. a black or a black or dark viscous substance obtained as a residue in the distillation of organic materials and especially tars
  2. any of various bituminous substances
  3. resin obtained from various conifers and often used medicinally
  4. any of various artificial mixtures resembling resinous or bituminous pitches

Vocabulary (not from Merriam-Webster)

pulley glitches:
this seems to refer to problems in a pulley system used to move things around a mine
sluice box:
the pan you run water through to find small flakes of gold (see a photo on Wikipedia)

Dylan's discussion topics

This poem was published in 2010

Many ways to read the poem. No true answer. Who do you think I in the poem is referring to?

  1. I in the poem = Paul Muldoon, or a common man speaking to Ireland?
  2. or is the I itself Ireland?

Other discussion points

  1. first sonnet of the poem is sort of a nationalistic discourse. Ireland has given these things to whoever you is (potentially the Irish people).
    • Opens up many metaphorical readings…
      • what could the rich vein we once worked mean? (tradition of Irish poetry, nationalism?)
  2. Not Ireland with the abstract boundaries drawn on a map, but rather the landscape.
    • Mining becomes important. (advertising transition of manual labor towards a post industrial production in service economy). What could this image of mining represent?
    • Digging deep into the body of the earth or Irish country, OR
    • Title — political meaning: transfer of a prisoner to another jurisdiction often used politically to talk about transfer of Americans where torture is used as a form of interrogation to extract information.
  3. How could this be seen as a metaphor of mining?
    • (do whatever it takes, be as violent as necessary to get what the info needed inside of you)
  4. Major themes of the first sonnet
    • Natural as the material for the artificial and the setting for the artificial, moreover, Artificiality within the natural
    • However, if you already have these distinctions that are being broken down by the poem as a whole, how does one integrate social aspects into this and how does sociality lie in this scheme.

Discussion questions

  1. Where do you see images of the natural world in this poem? (try looking in the 2nd/ 3rd stanza)
    • seen by natural materials a railroad is made from
  2. Where do you see explicit language discussing human constructions?
    • Towards the end where an image of all this artificial stuff is being carried in natural burlap
    • Characterize each of these.
    • What are the natural symbols actually being used here, what are the exact words?
    • What do you notice about them?
  3. In what ways are the artificial situated in the landscape?
    • train tracks opening up to the landscape
  4. What do you think about the natural and the artificial in this poem?

Manuel's discussion topics

Discussion of the title. See Wikipedia's article on Extraordinary Rendition for background information.