Eavan Boland with Mixed Emotions


Did I first "meet"
Eavan Boland in 1991? Sometime after my work with the Peace Corps in West Africa and before my job at Amnesty International, I worked in downtown Boston. Boland's reading took place at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. But how did I get there? I think my sister Ruby suggested going although neither of us are really sure.

What I remember: Inside the library and all the way to the auditorium, security guards and tall men in suits lined the corridors. At a poetry reading? The evening's playbill, handed to us by beaming librarians, announced that the Irish Consul was going to be introducing Boland. The entire event had the feel of an official state dinner---but without the food and drink. 

What we didn't know at the time was that Boland's father had been Ireland's first Ambassador to Great Britain, and later, to the United Nations. That Eavan Boland's classmate was Mary Robinson, President of Ireland.  Perhaps this had something to do with the formality (and sellout crowd) of the event or perhaps Bostonians simply adore anything Irish. In either case, I remember feeling every bit the gate crasher.

However, none of this mattered when Eavan Boland took the stage.  Actually, she commanded the stage from her military posture to her no nonsense approach to her poems. I believe she might have referred to herself in the third person. It was as if Eavan Boland was performing a lecture on Eavan Boland. 

The launch of her book Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990 (Norton) must have been the impetus behind the event. Boland was not yet fifty and little known in this country. That would soon change. In the following years, Norton would continue to be Boland's publisher and she'd take-up the position of Director of Creative Writing at Stanford University. But none of this had happened yet.

Instead, I remember a radiance to the poems which I instinctively responded to; sounds that invited me into a world of women where breastfeeding a child in the middle of the night or looking out the window were valued poetic subjects. It's impossible to relay the shock of the new; the radically feminist edge her work represented at the time---despite the upperclass bias, despite the ice cold presentation, these poems were announcing something important and wonderful in poetry.
To finish reading "Ode to Suburbia," click here.

And perhaps because she was so outrageously upperclass (with seemingly no political awareness of her position) her work was not ignored. At 23, she was one of the youngest lecturers at Trinity College, Dublin; today she is regarded as "the first major woman poet to write in the Irish tradition," (Gelpi, A, Stanford Magazine).

There seem to be too many Eavan Boland's in the poems and in life for me to consider in such a short space. Dear Reader, I was in love with the early poems, I was not in love with the person. And yet. Perhaps to write herself into the canon meant leaving a certain openness, a certain kind-heartedness behind. 

Can we love the poems and not the poet? 

Here is an excerpt from "Anna Liffy" written, in part, to the river that runs through Dublin with its 13 tributaries.


"Maker of
Places, remembrances,
Narrate such fragments for me:

One body. One spirit.
One place. One name.
The city where I was born.
The river that runs through it.
The nation which eludes me.

Fractions of a life
It has taken me a lifetime
To claim.

I came here in a cold winter.

I had no children. No country.
I did not know the name for my own life."

To read all 13 sections of the poem click here (Boland later took the section markers out---and made many post-publication edits).

And in one of the strange/not-so-strange coincidences in life: Linda Pastan blurbed Boland's first US publication, Outside History Selected Poems (1980-1990) like this:

'Eavan Boland's poems have been appearing here and there, tantalizing us with their rich, evocative music, the wisdom of their "camomile glow." What a pleasure to have them gathered together here where they can reach the large American audience they so clearly deserve."