Bits of Boland

From an interview with Eavan Boland at Caffeine Destiny:

The title “Against Love Poetry” recalls in some ways the title of one of your other books, “Outside History”. Do you see part of the poets work to write about things that happen outside of recorded culture?

It certainly feels to me that it’s on the margins, at the edges that a poet can make one kind of eco-system. Not the only one, of course. Poets have written at the center, in courts, at the seat of power. But that’s one kind of poetry. The idea of a poetry which can fathom silences, follow the outsider’s trail – that draws me in. In a country like Ireland it was possible to see the difference between the past and history – how one was official and articulate and the other was silent and fugitive. I suppose I was drawn to the past, rather than to history.  [more interview]

A poem from Against Love Poetry:


In the worst hour of the worst season
of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking-they were both walking-north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and a woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Eavan Boland on the poem and the book, from the same interview:

It was a series of separate poems. I didn’t consciously connect them. They began to be connected as they accumulated, as I saw the same images and ideas coming back again. These are marriage poems – I’ve been married thirty-two years. They’re also poems that are in an argument with traditional or conventional love poetry. It was hard to manage the different strands. But there’s a poem in the sequence of marriage poems in the book – there’s eleven of them in all – called “Quarantine”. And that was a shaping poem for me. It’s about an incident in Ireland in the nineteenth century: A man and a woman left the workhouse at the time of the 1847 famine. It was in Carrigstyra in West Cork. Those were very desperate times -there was famine fever and starvation. This incident must have been like hundreds of others and would probably have been forgotten but it was left as an anecdote by a man writing sixty years later. The man and woman walked north, back to their cabin. They died that night. In the morning when they were found, her feet were against his chest. He had tried to warm them as she died – as they both did. When I thought of that account, when it came into the poem in the sequence, it was no longer a local, Irish incident. It had become a dark love story, and an exemplary one. And that tied together things for me. All the things I wanted to get at – the stoicism of dailyness, the failure of conventional love poetry- all came together there.

From an interview with Elizabeth Schmidt at American Poet:

Schmidt: You mentioned the lyric is the lingua franca of Irish poetry. To what extent do you feel, if at all, that your ideas about feminism–the way those ideas have infused your work–have created a transnational poetics, a sort of lingua franca that addresses, for example, the domestic visions that women of a certain class everywhere can share?

Boland: I’m a feminist. I’m not a feminist poet. I’ve said somewhere else that I think feminism has real power and authority as an ethic, but none at all as an aesthetic. My poetry begins for me where certainty ends. I think the imagination is an ambiguous and untidy place, and its frontiers are not accessible to the logic of feminism for that reason. So I don’t really think it’s created that poetics you speak of, in exactly that way. Where feminism has influenced and anchored my view of things is in the making of a critique. And it’s one of the things I’m most uneasy about, looking back: that so much women’s poetry pre-existed that critique. I think it needs a critique. Feminism is certainly a part of a book like Object Lessons.  [more]

From In a Time of Violence:

The Pomegranate

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me. 
                              It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry.I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.

From Can Poetry Console a Grieving Public:

When Yeats wrote his essay “The Galway Plains,” he said, “There is still in truth upon these level plains a people, a community bound together by imaginative possessions.” If the poet can stay close to the idea of those imaginative possessions, then undoubtedly he or she can represent their loss. The problem is that poetry has, for almost a hundred years, shown suspicion of those very “imaginative possessions.” It has—at least in some quarters—guarded the rights to the private imagination fiercely, and resisted the obligations of the public one. There are reasons for that. 20th-century poetry, in the aftermath of the modernist initiative, was committed to new idioms of experiment and increasingly skeptical of the popular reader. Was that a mistake? Does the cultivation of the private imagination now seem too willful, too insular?  [all of it]

A final poem, from Domestic Violence:

Atlantis – A Lost Sonnet

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city—

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.

You can listen to an interview with Eavan Boland here

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