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For me, Meeting the British blew away the very idea of certainty | Giles Foden


Paul Muldoons 1987 collection was a profound influence on me as a writer, not least in how it shows how fixed ideas are subject to slippage

In 1986, fresh from Africa, I arrived at university with a sheaf of poems. Nothing unusual there, except in that year Paul Muldoon was the Judith E Wilson fellow at Cambridge, and by good fortune he was in residence at my own college, Fitzwilliam. There, once a week, at about six in the evening, he convened a writing group. It wasnt a creative writing workshop, but something more fluid. People would read out poems or short pieces of prose. Once, I remember, Lee Hall, later the writer of Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters, brought along his guitar and sang a song. The group was a mixture of students and Cambridge residents, of varying ages. We all smoked, of course, and there was a fair bit of covert flirting.

Muldoons responses to the work were elliptical, like his own writing, which we were beginning to discover in collections such as Quoof (1983) and a slim Selected Poems (1986). Once he described one of my poems I think it was about cycling as very regular. It took me some time to realise he probably wasnt just talking about the metre.

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