In the NYT’s Sunday Book Review, a look at two books by Paul Muldoon.

Paul Muldoon’s poetry, suspicious of sanctimony and sentimentality and frankly addicted to puns, dares us to ask: is he serious? Although his previous book of poetry, “Moy Sand and Gravel,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, and Muldoon served from 1999 to 2004 as professor of poetry at Oxford (his august predecessors include Matthew Arnold, W. H. Auden and Muldoon’s friend and fellow Northern Irishman Seamus Heaney), readers new to his poetry are likely to wonder if he’s really serious, and others will already have decided that no, he isn’t: his poetry is too full of games, too obscure, too clever.

In “Horse Latitudes,” Muldoon’s most recent collection, there is plenty of serious feeling (particularly anger, nostalgia and grief) and a subtle historical awareness of civil conflict and military violence. These are grave moods and subjects. Yet he approaches those moods and subjects by means of his trademark verbal play.

Take the title poem. The expression “horse latitudes,” the book jacket explains, “refers to those areas 30 degrees north and south of the Equator where sailing ships tend to stand becalmed in midocean, where stasis (if not stagnation) is the order of the day, and where sailors … would throw their live cargo overboard to lighten the load and conserve food and water.” The poem consists of 19 sonnets, each named for a battle site beginning with “B” (Bosworth Field, Bull Run and so on), from which Muldoon derives gruesome anecdotes and curious stories.