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

Daughters in Poetry

From Eavan Boland:

There are far too few daughters in poetry. They turn up surprisingly rarely in nineteenth century poems, considering how they crowded into the available fictional equivalents. So it’s a relief to start the twentieth century with this big, ornate and controversial poem by William Butler Yeats. In a way it was overdue. He married late. He was well on the way to being sixty when he wrote this poem for his only daughter Ann.

What exactly is it he wants for her? What is it he wants to keep her away from? If a wealthy marriage and Irish politics are the first and second answers here, they still can’t shadow or trivialize the beautiful context of the piece. As a complex statement about patriarchy, the poem falters. But as an image of a father on a wild Atlantic night in the west of Ireland, trying to put words between his child and danger, it is memorable. And as an image-system of coastal thrushes, poisoned wells and the struggle against hatred it remains an absolutely compelling poem.

The absence of daughters in earlier poems raises an interesting question. Does a sudden, new and permitted subject matter–or gradually sudden as in this case–discover the poem, or the other way around? Probably the first. Certainly, the idea of daughters–the down-to-earth and vast register of human feeling compressed into the very word–has opened up a wonderful landscape of tone and intimacy and bold subversions in recent poetry, some of which I’ve tried to include here.

To start with, there’s “Morning Song” by Plath. No sonorous authority here. Not only does this first, joyful birth of her daughter Freida in 1960, find Plath in good heart and fine voice. But this is a place where she tries out the anti-narrative she would perfect in later poems like “Balloons.” The language is startling and exact. The baby’s mouth is as clean as a cat’s. The baby is at first a plump, ticking watch but then quickly lets out a bald cry which turns her into a statue, which makes emotion a museum and motherhood a spectatorship. And suddenly, skillfully, the poem has darkened.

Read the rest here

Canada’s Poet (Woman, Feminist, Novelist, Essayist, Speechifier…)

Night Poem

There is nothing to be afraid of,
it is only the wind
changing to the east, it is only
your father the thunder
your mother the rain

In this country of water
with its beige moon damp as a mushroom,
its drowned stumps and long birds
that swim, where the moss grows
on all sides of the trees
and your shadow is not your shadow
but your reflection,

your true parents disappear
when the curtain covers your door.
We are the others,
the ones from under the lake
who stand silently beside your bed
with our heads of darkness.
We have come to cover you
with red wool,
with our tears and distant whipers.

You rock in the rain’s arms
the chilly ark of your sleep,
while we wait, your night
father and mother
with our cold hands and dead flashlight,
knowing we are only
the wavering shadows thrown
by one candle, in this echo
you will hear twenty years later.

Margaret Atwood

Atwood, on being a poet:

I’m supposed to be talking in a vaguely autobiographical way about the connection between life and poetry, or at least between my life and my poetry. I recently read an account of a study which intends to show how writers of a certain age — my age, roughly — attempt to “seize control” of the stories of their own lives by deviously concocting their own biographies. However, it’s a feature of our age that if you write a work of fiction, everyone assumes that the people and events in it are disguised biography — but if you write your biography, it’s equally assumed you’re lying your head off.

This last may be true, at any rate of poets: Plato said that poets should be excluded from the ideal republic because they are such liars. I am a poet, and I affirm that this is true. About no subject are poets tempted to lie so much as about their own lives; I know one of them who has floated at least five versions of his autobiography, none of them true. I of course — being also a novelist — am a much more truthful person than that. But since poets lie, how can you believe me?

Here then is the official version of my life as a poet:

I was once a snub-nosed blonde. My name was Betty. I had a perky personality and was a cheerleader for the college football team. My favourite colour was pink. Then I became a poet. My hair darkened overnight, my nose lengthened, I gave up football for the cello, my real name disappeared and was replaced by one that had a chance of being taken seriously by the literati, and my clothes changed colour in the closet, all by themselves, from pink to black. I stopped humming the songs from Oklahoma and began quoting Kirkegaard. And not only that — all of my high heeled shoes lost their heels, and were magically transformed into sandals. Needless to say, my many boyfriends took one look at this and ran screaming from the scene as if their toenails were on fire. New ones replaced them; they all had beards.

Believe it or not, there is an element of truth in this story. It’s the bit about the name, which was not Betty but something equally non-poetic, and with the same number of letters. It’s also the bit about the boyfriends. But meanwhile, here is the real truth:

I became a poet at the age of sixteen. I did not intend to do it. It was not my fault.

More at Canadian Poets

Atwood at The Poetry Archive, including audio of Atwood reading several poems – I confess, I adore her voice – yes, adore!

Atwood at

“Margaret Atwood’s Hands”  by George Bowering at Studies in Canadian Literature

Margaret Atwood’s Poetry at

Atwood’s poem “Variations on the Word ‘Sleep’” with comments, at The Wondering Minstrels (love this site)

O.W. Toad Margaret Atwood Reference Site

Canadian Woman Poet


The night you died, I heard your cello shift —
a scraping in its corner in the barn.
Alfalfa pillowed it. White breath of pigs
was wreathed around the scroll; the cattle mourned.
For years its neck had rested by your ear.
Your bow across its strings and belly filled
the burlap sacks with apples, dusky tarns
of sound. You listened to that voice until
your marriage. Then she didn’t let you play.
Her own voice, hoarse from children, saw you lean
in longing to the shovel, hurl the hay.
She felt your fingers press the strings in dream.
Your heart collapsed too soon — you died asleep.
Beside you she heard wood and horsehair weep.

Barbara Nickel

The Gladys Elegies


We play near aging cheese and scattered rice,
among the pumpkins, gulls and smell of fish,
breezes, clatter jesting on my face,
the jostles of the crowd and passing swish
of silk unseen. Our lines of music join
the cappuccino screams, juggle above
a pile of ripe tomatoes; seeds spill down,
and juice and music mash up in a sieve;
Mozart, the people shout. I laugh as doors
open, wind snatching notes and rumpling clothes.
Our cases on the wet and sticky floor,
the clinking coins on velvet, crumpled bills.
Beside my violin, a tiny boy
is moving to the shadow of my joy.


Notes on “Busking” by Sandy Shreve

What Use Poetry?

All There Is To Know About Adolf Eichmann


What did you expect?
Oversize incisors?
Green Saliva?


Leonard Cohen

from Stranger Music, Selected Poems and Songs

About Adolf Eichmann:

SS Lieutenant-Colonel who was Chief of the Jewish Office of the Gestapo during World War II and implemented the ‘Final Solution‘ which aimed at the total extermination of European Jewry, Adolf Eichmann was born in Solingen on 19 March 1906.

The declasse son of a solid middle-class Protestant family which had moved to Linz, Austria, where Eichmann spent his youth, he failed to complete his engineering studies. After working briefly as an ordinary labourer in his father’s small mining enterprise and then in the sales department of an Upper Austrian electrical construction company, Eichmann became a travelling salesman for the Vacuum Oil Company between 1927 and 1933.

On April 1, 1932 he joined the Austrian Nazi Party at the suggestion of his compatriot Ernst Kaltenbrunner. Having lost his job he sought employment across the border in Bavaria in July 1933, joining the exiled Austrian legion and undergoing fourteen months’ military training.

In September 1934 he found an opening in Himmler’s Security Service (SD) which provided him with an outlet for his bureaucratic talents. By the beginning of 1935 he was the official responsible for ‘Jewish questions’ at the Berlin head office of the SD, specializing in the Zionist movement. He acquired a smattering of Hebrew and Yiddish, and briefly visited Palestine in 1937 to explore the possibilities of Jewish emigration from Nazi Germany to Palestine.

Appointed assistant to the SD leader of the SS main region, Danube, Eichmann’s first big opportunity came after he was sent to Vienna by the Gestapo to prepare the ground for the Anschluss.

From August 1938 he was in charge of the “Office for Jewish Emigration” in Vienna set up by the SS as the sole Nazi agency authorized to issue exit permits for Jews from Austria, then Czechoslovakia and later the old German Reich. Eichmann’s acquired expertise in “forced emigration”–in less than eighteen months approximately 150,000 Jews left Austria–and extortion was to prove an ideal training-ground for his later efficiency in “forced evacuation,” i.e., the registering, assembly and deportation of Jews to extermination centres in the East. By March 1939 he was already handling forced deportations to Poland and, in October of the same year, he was appointed special adviser on the “evacuation” of Jews and Poles.

In December 1939 Eichmann was transferred to Amt IV (Gestapo) of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) where he took over Referat IV B4 dealing with Jewish affairs and evacuation. For the next six years Eichmann’s office was the headquarters for the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’; though it was not until the summer of 1941 that his ‘resettlement’ department began the task of creating death camps, developing gassing techniques and organizing the system of convoys that were to take European Jewry to their deaths.

It was in 1941 that Eichmann first visited Auschwitz and in November of the same year he was promoted to SS Lieutenant-Colonel. He had already begun to organize the mass deportation of Jews from Germany and Bohemia, in accordance with Hitler’s order to make the Reich free of Jews as rapidly as possible.

The Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942 consolidated Eichmann’s position as the “Jewish specialist” of the RSHA and Heydrich now formally entrusted him with implementing the “Final Solution.” In this task Eichmann proved to be a model of bureaucratic industriousness and icy determination even though he had never been a fanatical anti-semite and always claimed that “personally” he had nothing against Jews. His zeal expressed itself in his constant complaints about obstacles in the fulfilment of death-camp quotas, his impatience with the existence of loopholes such as the free zone in Vichy France or the unco- operativeness of the Italians and other German allies in expediting their Jews.

When even Himmler became more “moderate” towards the end of the war, Eichmann ignored his ‘no gassing’ order, as long as he was covered by immediate superiors like Heinrich Muller and his old friend, Kaltenbrunner. Only in Budapest after March 1944 did the desk-murderer become a public personality, working in the open and playing a leading role in the massacre of Hungarian Jewry. In August 1944 the ‘Grand Inquisitor’ of European Jewry could report to Himmler that approximately four million Jews had died in the death camps and that another two million had been killed by mobile extermination units. Though arrested at the end of the war, Eichmann’s name was not yet widely known and he was able to escape from an American internment camp in 1946 and flee to Argentina. He was eventually tracked down by Israeli secret agents on May 2, 1960, living under an assumed name in a suburb of Buenos Aires. Nine days later he was secretly abducted to Israel, to be publicly tried in Jerusalem. The trial, which aroused enormous international interest and some controversy, took place between April 2 and August 14, 1961. On December 2, 1961 Eichmann was sentenced to death for crimes against the Jewish people and crimes against humanity. On May 31, 1962 he was executed in Ramleh prison.

Jewish Virtual Library

Dear Body

It’s not really important
whether poetry is red
or blue — I do it for fun.
Or because it doesn’t hurt.
Or really because I’m scared
about nothing being done.

Dan Machlin, Ugly Duckling Press


Pete Seeger with Ray Anderson’s Placard Poems

Bill Quigley rounds up some stats on arrests of war resisters in the US:

“We can never forget that everything that Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal,’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany, but I am sure that if I lived in Germany during that time I would have comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal…we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension.� We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

There have been over 15,000 arrests for resistance to war since 2002. There were large numbers right after the run up to and invasion of Iraq. Recently, arrests have begun climbing again. Though arrests are a small part of anti-war organizing, their rise is an indicator of increasing resistance.

The information comes from the NUCLEAR RESISTER, a newsletter that has been reporting detailed arrest information on peace activists and other social justice campaigns since 1980. Felice and Jack Cohen-Joppa, publishers of the NUCLEAR RESISTER, document arrests by name and date based on information collected from newspapers across the country and from defense lawyers and peace activists.

Since 2002, the NUCLEAR RESISTER has documented anti-war arrests for protestors each year:

2002 – 1800 arrests
2003 – 6072 arrests
2004 – 2440 arrests
2005 – 975 arrests
2006 – 950 arrests
2007 – 2272 arrests
2008 – 810 as of May 1

“Arrests for resistance to war are far more widespread geographically than most people think,” according to Cohen-Joppa of NUCLEAR RESISTER. “Yes, there are many arrests in DC and traditional big cities of anti-war activity – like San Francisco, NYC and Chicago, but there have also been anti-war arrests in Albany, Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Bangor, Bath, Bend, Brentwood, Burlington, Campbell, Cedar Rapids, Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, Chicopee, Colorado Springs, Denver, Des Moines, East Hampton, Erie, Eugene, Eureka, Fairbanks, Fairport, Fort Bragg, Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids, Great Dismal Swamp, Hammond, Huntsville, Joliet, Juneau, Kennebunkport, La Crosse, Los Angeles, Madison, Manchester, Memphis, Newark, Northbrook, Olympia, Omaha, Pittsburgh, Portland, Portsmouth, Providence, Richmond, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Fe, Smithfield, Springfield, St. Louis, St. Paul, Staten Island, Superior, Syracuse, Tacoma, Toledo, Tucson, Tulsa, Vandenberg, Virginia� Beach, Wausau, Wheaton and Wilmington just to name a few.”

“In fact,” notes Cohen-Joppa, “in 2007, anti-war arrests were reported during 250 distinct events in 105 cities in 35 states and the District of Columbia.  So far in 2008, arrests have been reported at 65 events in 43 different cities in 19 states and D.C.”

Sky Dancer Poetry

Poet Louise Halfe’s Cree name is Sky Dancer:

In this powerful book of poetry, Plains Cree Writer Louise Bernice Halfe sets out to heal the past.
“The map of oral storytelling had long been laid out for me. I often entertained my children with legends I grew up with or made up on my own through the images in classical music. Writing was a natural medicine, creating themselves in the form of poetry. These egg-bones were the voice which I have been addressing. My bare feet had felt the drum of the earth and the heartbeat of my palms. I did not fight these stories, though many times I wanted to run. I became a wolf, sniffing and searching, pawing, muzzling, examining every visible track I made or saw. I became the predator on the scent. I was the master, the slave, beholder and beheld, the voice and the song. I was the dark, the light. Like the legend of Pahkahkos, my death-song grated, and when I honored my history Pakohkos rattled her bones in the gourds of my memory. I will no longer be a binding sinew of stifling rules, but rather a sinew of wolf songs, clear as morning air.”-
Afterward-Comfortable in My Bones, Bear Bones & Feathers,
by Louise Halfe
Employing Native spiritualism, black comedy and the memories of her own childhood as healing arts, she finds an irrepressible source of strength and dignity in her people. Bear Bones & Feathers is rooted in Halfe’s own life. She offers moving portraits of her grand mother- a medicine woman whose life straddled old and new worlds- her parents, and the people whose pain she witnessed on the reserve and at residential school.

“With gentleness, old woman’s humor, and a good red willow switch, Louise chases out the shadowy images that haunt our lives. She makes a good medicine, she sings a beautiful song.”
-Maria Campbell


The Telephone and the Labyrinth

A review of Adrienne Rich’s newest collection of poems by Elizabeth Bachner at bookslut:

Adrienne Rich is tricky, as a poet and as a thinker. The poems in Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth are filled with traps and snares and problems that move in circles. She’s so deft, in some enigmatic way, that she manages to pull off references and turns of phrase that would sink any other poet’s work, that would seem pretentious or overwrought in other hands. In the nine-part “Draft #2006,” which might be my favorite piece in this volume, she quotes Karl Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach in part four, visits a farmer swallowing pesticide in Andhra Pradesh in part six, and talks about the “thereness” of a thing in part nine — and yet somehow, through something edgier and brainier than magic, the poem is never heavy-handedly political or philosophical. It’s just thought-provoking. And circular. And tricky. You could sit stewing over the first line — “Suppose we came back as ghosts asking the unasked questions” — for hours, and then there are ideas and images that provide pure pleasure with their mystery. The “border of poetry” is “dreamfaces blurring horrorlands.” In “rooms of mahogany and leather,/ conversations open in international code. Thighs and buttocks to open later by/ arrangement.” There is something timeless about this poem, even though it’s about timeliness:

They asked me, is this time worse than another.

I said, for whom?

Wanted to show them something. While I wrote on the
chalkboard they drifted out. I turned back to an empty room.

Maybe I couldn’t write fast enough. Maybe it was too soon.

Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth: Poems  2004-2006

Adrienne Rich

A 2006 lecture by Adrienne Rich for Poets Against War   here

Sky Atlas
Alan R. Wilson
There is something in the contours of the sonnet, that siren of poetic forms, which can shape the imagination. Sky Atlas, based on the 88 constellations, is itself a sequence of 88 sonnets: some are traditional and others, like the prose sonnet and the hypersonnet, are more subversive, yet still maintain a strong attachment to a poetic terrain.The heavens are seasonal, and so is the atlas, with 22 constellations in each of the spring, summer, fall, and winter sections. A walk under the stars, whatever the season, can leave you breathless and wondering. Reading Sky Atlas will do the same.Alan R. Wilson was born in New Brunswick, and now lives in Victoria, British Columbia. He has degrees in Physics and Creative Writing, and is the author of two previous books of poetry: Animate Objects and Counting to 100. His novel, Before the Flood, was shortlisted for the Ethyl Wilson Prize for Fiction and the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, and won the 2000 Books in Canada/Chapters First Novel Award. He is currently editing his next novel, Lucifer’s Hair, is attempting to keep up with his three-year-old daughter, and still looks through the astronomical telescope he bought in high school.