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 G. M. Young Lecturer in English Literature at Hertford College, Oxford.
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.
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). He has championed the work of literary and social critic William Hazlitt and has taken part in a campaign which succeeded in having Hazlitt's gravestone refurbished.
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. His passionate arguments and desire for a political poetry hails from the influence of John Milton, according to critic Jonathan Hufstader, though his outrage "often consumes itself in congested anger".
Following the success of the Field Day Theatre Company's tour of Brian Friel's play Translations in late 1980, the two founding directors (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: Friel, Rea, Paulin, Seamus Deane, Seamus Heaney and David Hammond.
Paulin was a member of the Labour Party but resigned after declaring that the government of Tony Blair was "a Zionist government". His poem "Killed in Crossfire" when published in British newspaper The Observer aroused some controversy for referring to a Palestinian boy being "gunned down by the Zionist SS". According to Denis MacShane in Globalising Hatred: The New Antisemitism (2008), it was Paulin's expression of his "anger and anguish at the behaviour of Israeli troops". In 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". After his comments in Al-Ahram raised controversy, he said in a letter to The Independent and the Daily Telegraph, 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".
The band Tompaulin were named after Paulin.
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