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Boland, Eavan

BOLAND, Eavan


Nationality: Irish. Born: Dublin, 24 September 1944. Education: Trinity College, Dublin, first-class honors degree 1966. Family: Married Kevin Casey in 1969; two daughters. Career: Junior lecturer, Trinity College, Dublin, 1967–68; lecturer, School of Irish Studies, Dublin, 1973–88; writer-in-residence, Trinity College, Dublin, 1989, and University College, Dublin, 1991; Hurst Professor, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, 1992; Shirley Sutton Thomas Professor, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, 1993; regents lecturer, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1995. Since 1995 professor of English and director of the creative writing program, Stanford University, California. Awards: Macaulay fellowship in poetry, 1968; Jacobs award for broadcasting, 1977; Irish American Cultural award, 1983; Ingram Merrill foundation award, 1989; Terrence de Pres award, Parnassus, 1993; May Sarton award, New England Poetry Club, 1993; Ireland-American literature award, 1994; Lannan award for poetry, 1994; Irish American literature award, 1994; O'Shaugnessy award for poetry, 1997. D.Litt.: University of Strathclyde, National University of Ireland, and Colby College, all 1997. Member: Irish Academy of Letters, 1975. Address: c/o English Department, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

23 Poems. Dublin, Gallagher, 1962.

Autumn Essay. Dublin, Gallagher, 1963.

Poetry. Dublin, Gallagher, 1963.

New Territory. Dublin, Alan Figgis, 1967.

The War Horse. London, Gollancz, 1975.

In Her Own Image, illustrations by Constance Short. Dublin, Arlen House, 1980.

Introducing Eavan Boland. Princeton, New Jersey, Ontario Review Press, 1981.

Night Feed. Dublin, Arlen House, and London and Boston, Marion Boyars, 1982.

The Journey. N.p., Deerfield Press, 1983.

The Journey and Other Poems. Manchester, Carcanet, 1987.

Selected Poems. Manchester, Carcanet, 1989.

Outside History: Selected Poems, 1980–90. Manchester, Carcanet, and New York, Norton, 1990.

In a Time of Violence. Manchester, Carcanet, 1994.

An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems 1967–87. New York, Norton, 1996.

The Lost Land: Poems. New York, Norton, and Manchester, Carcanet, 1998.

Other

A Kind of Scar: The Woman Poet in a National Tradition. Dublin, Attic Press, 1989.

Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time. Manchester, Carcanet, and New York, Norton, 1995.

*

Critical Studies: "A Material Fascination" by Lachlan Mackinnon, in The Times Literary Supplement (London), 4403, 21 August 1987; "Toward Her Own Image" by Amy Klauke, in Northwest Review (Eugene, Oregon) 25(1), 1987; "'What You Have Seen Is beyond Speech': Female Journeys in the Poetry of Eavan Boland and Eilean Ni Chuilleanain" by Sheila C. Conboy, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), 16(1), July 1990; "Improvising the Blackbird" by David Walker, in Field (Oberlin, Ohio), 44, spring 1991; "Ecriture Feminine and the Authorship of Self in Eavan Boland's 'In Her Own Image'" by Jody Allen-Randolph, in Colby Quarterly (Waterville, Maine), 27(1), March 1991; "'We Were Never on the Scene of the Crime': Eavan Boland's Repossession of History" by Patricia L. Hagen, in Twentieth Century Literature, 37, winter 1991; "Eavan Boland's Journey with the Muse" by Ellen M. Mahon, in Learning the Trade: Essays on W.B. Yeats and Contemporary Poetry, edited by Deborah Fleming, West Cornwall, Connecticut, Locust Hill, 1993; "'Out of Myth into History': The Poetry of Eavan Boland and Eilean Ni Chuilleanain" by Deborah Sarbin, in Canadian Journal of Irish Studies (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), 19(1), July 1993; "Finding a Voice Where She Found a Vision" by Jody Allen-Randolph, in PN Review (Manchester), 21(1), September-October 1994; "Anxiety, Influence, Tradition and Subversion in the Poetry of Eavan Boland" by Kerry E. Robertson, in Colby Quarterly (Waterville, Maine), 30(4), December 1994; "'An Origin Like Water': The Poetry of Eavan Boland and Modernist Critiques of Irish Literature" by Ann Owens Weekes, in Bucknell Review (Cranbury, New Jersey), 38(1), 1994; "Responses to Elizabeth Bishop: Anne Stevenson, Eavan Boland and Jo Shapcott" by David G. Williams, in English (Leicester, England), 44(180), fall 1995; "The Diversity of Performance/Performance As Diversity in the Poetry of Laura (Riding) Jackson and Eavan Boland" by Seija H. Paddon, in English Studies in Canada (Ottowa), 22(4), December 1996; "First Principles and Last Things: Death and the Poetry of Eavan Boland and Audre Lorde" by Margaret Mills Harper, in Representing Ireland: Gender, Class, Nationality, edited by Susan Shaw Sailer, Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 1997; "Postcolonialism in the Poetry and Essays of Eavan Boland" by Rose Atfield, in Women: A Cultural Review, 8(2), fall 1997; Locating in the Actual: The Poetry of Eavan Boland and Adrienne Rich (dissertation) by Jeannette Elizabeth Riley, University of New Mexico, 1998; "Eavan Boland: Mazing Her Way" by David C. Ward, in Sewanee Review, 106(2), 1998; "Dilemmas and Developments: Eavan Boland Re-examined" by Sarah Maguire, in Feminist Review, 62, 1999; Eavan Boland issue of Colby Quarterly (Colby, Maine), winter 1999.

*  *  *

Eavan Boland is very self-consciously an Irish woman poet. As she said in the 1994 Ronald Duncan lecture, "I am an Irish poet. A woman poet. In the first category I enter the tradition of the English language at an angle. In the second, I enter my own tradition at an even more steep angle." Many of her poetry's strengths, and some of its weaknesses (principally, a tendency to go for flat declarations), derive from the difficult relation to poetic tradition that it articulates. In the midst of, and often propelling, her changes of style is a steady yearning to draw inspiration from a figure addressed in a poem from Night Feed (1982) as "The Muse Mother." Here the poet looks at a woman with a child and writes in weighted short lines, a reaction against the careful rhyming of her early work, of her desire "to be a sibyl/able to sing the past/in pure syllables/&/able to speak at last/my mother tongue."

For all the craving for "pure syllables," the great virtue of Boland's work, like that of Adrienne Rich, is the way it at once contests and negotiates with the impurities of the quotidian. One of her many fine meditations on paintings, "Self-Portrait on a Summer Evening," concludes with "I am Chardin's woman/edged in reflected light,/hardened by/the need to be ordinary." "Hardened" implies a strengthening or clarifying that is perilously close to a certain obduracy, and much of Boland's work counts the cost of self-definition. In "The New Pastoral" she sees herself, a shade cumbersomely, as a "displaced person/in a pastoral chaos." But the cumbersome is laid aside at the end, where she describes what she sees as "amnesias/of a rite/I danced once on a frieze." Even in this graceful recapturing there is irony, as Boland is compelled to use a traditional pastoral image for her antitraditional sense of a lost self.

Boland's concern with self is, for the most part, unsolipsistic, and her career has been a long struggle to remain true to her own experience and yet to find a way of speaking in more universal terms about "herstory." "Ode to Suburbia" is a witty example from her earlier work in which Boland's command of a long sentence spun across a tightly rhymed stanza helps to give the feeling of one experience "multiplied":

   How long ago did the glass in your windows subtly
   Silver into mirrors which again
   And again show the same woman
   Shriek at a child, which multiply
   A dish, a brush, ash …

In subsequent poems Boland experiments with a Plath-like voice of controlled ferocity. These poems can, as in "Woman in Kitchen," take on a little too well the blanched hues of the very restrictedness against which they protest. That said, a poem such as "Anorexic" is a superb tour de force, partly because of the conceit it employs of the anorexic speaker seeking to "slip/back into him again/as if I had never been away." More complexly satisfying are Boland's poems of motherhood, found mainly in Night Feed. As is the case in Plath's poems about her children, Boland is able to suggest a range of feelings; a credible love is shadowed and intensified by awareness of a range of differences between experience and innocence and between the celebrated moment and the future. "Night Feed" lets the silences between its short assertions do most of the poem's work: "Poplars stilt for dawn/And we begin/The long fall from grace./I tuck you in." Here the final gesture and rhyme hold at bay the saddened onset of a "fall from grace."

Boland's best work, however, is written in the longer, fluent line of poems such as "The Journey." The staccato syntax of Night Feed yields to a more dreamlike, eddying progression as the poet, possibly influenced by Seamus Heaney's example in Station Island, is led in reverie by Sappho into an underworld of "women and children." Boland's characteristic desire to "'let me at least be their witness'" is delicately rebuked by Sappho, who replies that "what you have seen is beyond speech,/beyond song, only not beyond love." The moment has a Dantescan ring, yet it also shows how Boland is able to adapt Dante to her own concerns. The poem's movement and atmosphere of dream vision are impressively sustained.

In a Time of Violence (1994) builds on the achievement of The Journey, revealing a new appetite for detail and a corresponding ability to weave detail into finely cadenced meditations. This is not to suggest that Boland's poetry has lost its edge, which is quietly apparent in the sequence "Writing in a Time of Violence." But it is to claim for the volume an authority that, in her Duncan lecture, Boland speaks of as hard for her as an Irish woman poet to attain. There is in the collection a hard-won awareness that art can serve not only to express problems but also to provide solutions, however provisional. In "Time and Violence" Boland is visited by a (female) voice she ventriloquizes as saying, "Write us out of the poem. Make us human/in cadences of change and mortal pain/and words we can grow old and die in." At this stage in her career Boland is able to span the vast gap between the ruthless imperatives of art and the claims of the "human" and to span it in such a way that art begins to seem a qualified source of consolation. Thus, in the final poem, "The Art of Grief," she ends with an implied question that is also a calmly "unflinching" statement, the poet wondering "whether she flinched as the chisel found/that region her tears inferred,/where grief and its emblems are inseparable."

—Michael O'Neill

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