The Myth and Memory Of Eavan Boland’s Latest Poems by J P O’Malley

I do not often recommend newspaper articles on Irish poetry, but I am making an exception in the case of The Examiner’s review of Eavan Boland’s latest book New and Selected Poems Eavan Boland (Carcanet). J P O’Malley offers an extensive review, some illuminating video links, and a preview of his upcoming interview with Boland at The Boogaloo (London) in this article.

‘The heroic narrative that the founding fathers of the State attempted to make a universal truth is also something that Boland’s poetry has challenged consistently. Lest we forget, the birth of the Irish nationalist myth was forged initially through poetry, which unapologetically glorified violence ‘ (Examiner)

It was a similar situation in the visual arts where censorship was prevalent and the original blasphemy laws (we updated them again in 2010) were used to suppress arts, most notoriously the work of Charles Rouault. We can examine how publications were seized and often censored for crimes like obscenity. The fact that there existed before Boland an entire suppressed narrative, a body of literature by women poets, should not surprise us, although it continues to be forgotten and ignored even today. It would be incredibly naïve of the reader to assume that there existed a desert before Eavan Boland’s work flowered in the 1970’s. The women poets were there but they were ignored by the critical and academic establishment, immersed as they were in the imaginative creation of the state.

I  have added in a brief note on Emma Penney’s thesis at the base of this post which challenges the critical reception of Eavan Boland and the restrictive criteria, developed in the 1970’s, under which poetry by women in Ireland has been assessed. Boland alludes to the suppressed narrative throughout her writing career. We are the land of the suppressed poetic narrative afterall. I believe that some people would like to think that women probably did not write poetry much then, but that’s basically a cop-out based in critical laziness and cultural misogyny. The imaginative creation of ‘state’ seems a task left to the masculine poet and his apologetics professors and there are plenty of those.

“In the mid 1960s, when Boland started out as a writer, there was no place for women in the canon of Irish poetry. Moreover, the chances of making it as a poet seemed impossible when she moved to of Dundrum in south Dublin to raise a family. At the time, novelists like Richard Yates in the US were writing about the slow death of creativity in boring, bourgeois-suburbia.
 
But Boland understood that there are complexities in life worth documenting, if one has the sense to deconstruct them. “I was a woman in a house in the suburbs, married with two small children. It was a life lived by many women around me, but it was still not named in Irish poetry. From the beginning, I knew I would have to put the life I lived into the poems I wrote. If I didn’t I would end up writing someone else’s poem.” (Examiner)


Emma Penney, a graduate of the Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College Dublin. Her thesis, Now I am a Tower of Darkness: A Critical History of Poetry by Women in Ireland, challenges the critical reception of Eavan Boland and the restrictive criteria, developed in the 1970’s, under which poetry by women in Ireland has been assessed. She considers the subversive nature of women’s poetry written between 1921 and 1950, and calls into question the critical assumption that Eavan Boland represents “the first serious attempt in Ireland to make a body of poems that arise out of the contemporary female consciousness”. In Object Lessons, Boland concluded that there were no women poets before her who communicated “an expressed poetic life” in their work. Emma’s thesis reveals how this view has permeated the critical landscape of women’s poetry, facilitating an absurd privation of the history of poetry by women in Ireland and simplifying it in the process.

 

 


 

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