Tom Paulin

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Thomas Neilson Paulin (born 25 January 1949 in Leeds, England) is a Northern Irish poet and critic of film, music and literature. He lives in England, where he is the GM Young Lecturer in English Literature at Hertford College, Oxford.

Early life[edit]

While he was still young, Paulin's Northern Irish Protestant mother and English father moved from Leeds to Belfast and Paulin grew up in a middle class area of the city. According to Paulin, his parents, a doctor and headmaster, held "vaguely socialist liberal views". While still a teenager, Paulin joined the Trotskyist Socialist Labour League.[1]

Paulin was educated at Annadale Grammar School, Hull University and Lincoln College, Oxford.[1]


From 1972 to 1994, he worked at the University of Nottingham, first as a lecturer and then as a Reader of Poetry. In 1977, he won the Somerset Maugham prize for his poetry collection A State of Justice and later established his reputation as a literary critic with work such as Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State (1992).[citation needed] He has championed the work of literary and social critic William Hazlitt and has taken part in a successful campaign to have Hazlitt's gravestone refurbished.[citation needed]

Paulin is considered to be among a group of writers from a Unionist background "who have attempted to recover the radical Protestant republican heritage of the eighteenth century to challenge orthodox concepts" of Northern Irish Protestant identity.[2]

Paulin is most widely known in Britain for his appearances on the late-night BBC arts programmes The Late Show, Late Review and Newsnight Review, where he has established a reputation not only for his acerbic judgements but also for the unusual quality of some of his language.[citation needed] He is also not averse to becoming involved in bad-tempered arguments with other regular guests such as Germaine Greer.[citation needed]

His appearances on Newsnight Review were parodied in an The Adam and Joe Show's Toymovie sketch titled Toy Review. It featured a stuffed-toy tortoise with an Irish accent called Tom Tortoise, who strongly resembled Paulin.[citation needed]

Following the success of the Field Day Theatre Company's tour of Brian Friel's play Translations in late 1980, the two founding directors (Brian Friel and Stephen Rea) decided to make Field Day a permanent enterprise; thus, to qualify for financial support from both the Northern Irish and the Irish governments, they expanded the governing board from the original two members to six: Brian Friel, Stephen Rea, Seamus Deane, Seamus Heaney, David Hammond, and Tom Paulin. In 2009 he translated Euripides's Medea.[3]

Paulin was a member of the Labour Party, but resigned after declaring that the government of Tony Blair was "a Zionist government." [4]

His poem Killed in Crossfire in the British newspaper The Observer aroused some controversy for referring to a Palestinian boy being "gunned down by the Zionist SS".[5] According to Denis MacShane in his book Globalising Hatred: The New Antisemitism, it was Paulin's expression of his “anger and anguish at the behavior of Israeli troops.”[6] An interview he gave to the state-owned Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly, Paulin described Israeli government actions in Palestine as "an historical obscenity." When asked how he responds to accusations of anti-Semitism that follow such descriptions, he told the newspaper: "I just laugh when they do that to me. It does not worry me at all. These are the Hampstead liberal Zionists. I have utter contempt for them. They use this card of anti-Semitism." Regarding supporters of Israel, Paulin stated "You are either a Zionist or an anti-Zionist. Everyone who supports Israel is a Zionist."[4] After his comments in Al-Ahram, appearing to wish settlers to be shot dead, raised controversy, he said in a letter to The Independent, that his views were "distorted", writing: "I have been, and am, a lifelong opponent of anti-Semitism ... I do not support attacks on Israeli civilians under any circumstances. I am in favour of the current efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians"[7][8][9]


  1. ^ a b "Profile: Tom Paulin", The Guardian, 23 March 2002
  2. ^ Cleary, Joe, Literature, Partition and the Nation State: Culture and Conflict in Ireland, Israel and Palestine (Cambridge University Press, 2002), p.75 ISBN 0-521-65732-6
  3. ^ "Tom Paulin – complete guide to the Playwright, Plays, Theatres, Agent" – The Playwrights Database
  4. ^ a b 'That weasel word' Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 4–10 April 2002
  5. ^ Paulin, Tom. "Killed in Crossfire". The Observer. Retrieved 8 September 2014. We're fed this inert // this lying phrase // like comfort food // as another little Palestinian boy // in trainers jeans and a white teeshirt // is gunned down by the Zionist SS // whose initials we should // - but we don't - dumb goys - // clock in that weasel word crossfire 
  6. ^ Denis, MacShane (2008). Globalising Hatred: The New Antisemitism’. Orion Publishing Group. 
  7. ^ "Paulin Likely To Speak in Spring". Harvard Crimson. 
  8. ^ MacLeod, Donald. "Paulin banned from Harvard poetry reading". 
  9. ^ Paulin's future at Oxford in balance after 'anti-Semitic' row by Robert Mendick, The Independent, 28 April 2002, page 7. (reprinted by

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