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.




Poems from ‘Of Dead Silences’ by Michael McAloran

Of The-

Head of death

The seasons dissipate as if they
Had never collected tears

A dissolving sky
Soil sieved through fingers

The silent laughter of the blood

Nothing More-

Ruins of the foreign sky
From which point all are dead

Smears of dying animals upon clear glass
The flies will gather, nothing more



A blindfold of congealed earth
The dead drown of inverted tears

Lacking the light
By which the night ignites the living


Brute flesh shocks the nothing back
Into resolve

And is then pissed upon



Heart of desolate
In a vice of flesh

Nowhere else/ nowhere/ nothing less
The winds erased having tasted ashes

Echoes of non-being
Inexplicable silences


Dark hollow
The sky unearthed

One final breath to champion the infinite



Haven to begin from
Scarlet striking out striking the dirt

With liquid hands
As if it could have ever begun otherwise



Echo within echo within shadow of…
Absence/ walls/ flames/ still breath alone

Pantheon of carousel/ of vertigo/ of absences

Night’s undoing was never night
Hence the laughter forever ceases to be


Danse of polka winds…night undone/
Night flourishing…

Silent retrace of bone/ vapours/ memories

Immense sky of non-death/ nothing lessened
Razor absences/ peeling away the bloodlessness


Hollowed tongue…winds dealt/ silenced
Dread lest the fingers break/ (only the elapsed)

Sing elixir of non-speech/ mouth full of dry sands
Leaving behind the drapery of skinned tide


Adrift…a visage of mists…(dead unto breath)/ arbitrary
Vault of wasps/ colours/ discoloured skin/ emptily

Night of vague breathing/ unheard voices/ voices heard

Stillness of forgotten sky/ there or here again/ cast aside
Buried sun/ sky/ sun of ashen waste/ teeth of nothingness


Waste ground/ flies of haste/ silver voices/ decay
Black tongue of…wasted wounds of…soundless again

Arise dead/ so much the/ dread/ silenced/ birthed
Evaporating tongue of/ erased/ better never/ never to have been


All the images accompanying the poems from Of Dead Silences (Lapwing 2013) are © Michael McAloran (Acrylic on unprimed canvas, 2012)
Michael Mc Aloran was Belfast born, (1976). His work has appeared in various print and online zines, including Carcinogenic Poetry, Calliope Nerve, The Recusant, PMI, Sex & Murder Magazine, Full Of Crow, Media Virus, In Between Altered States, Horror, Sleaze & Trash, Negative Suck, Graffiti Kolkata, Pratishedhak, Prathamata, Danse Macabre,, The Plebian Rag, Full of Crow, Gloom Cupboard, Gutter Eloquence, 1000th Monkey, Fashion For Collapse, Fragile Arts Quarterly, Clockwise Cat, Sein Und Werden, Peripheral Surveys, Milk Sugar Literary Journal, Psychic Meatloaf, Cannoli Pie, The Medulla Review, Counterexample Poetics, Heavy Bear, Indigo Rising, Widowmoon Press, Nothing, No-one, Nowhere, Mastodon Dentist, Gobbet, Ink Sweat & Tears, Ygdrasil, Establishment, Stride, A New Ulster, Primal Urge Magazine, Can Can, etc.He has authored a number of chapbooks, including ‘The Gathered Bones’, (Calliope Nerve Media), ‘Final Fragments’, (Calliope Nerve Media), & ‘The Death-Streaked Air’ (Virgogray Press), ‘Debris’, (Erbacce-Press),‘The Rapacious Night‘, (Calliope Nerve Media),’, & ‘Unto Naught’, (Erbacce-Press). A full-length collection of poems, ‘Attributes’, was published by ‘Desperanto’, (NY), in May 2011, & ‘The Non Herein’ was published by Lapwing Publications in 2012. An ekphrastic text/ image book, ‘Machinations’ was published in 2013 by Knives, Forks & Spoons Press (U.K). More recently, two further collections, ‘In Damage Seasons’ & ‘All Stepped/ Undone’ were published by Oneiros Books. Lapwing Publications also recently published a collection of imagistic aphorisms, ‘Of Dead Silences’

A note from Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd.

Author and Poet Doris Lessing
Author and Poet Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing died a matter of days after I had received permission to carry some of the poems from her Fourteen Poems on this blog indefinitely. I had put up the following note and message and see no reason to remove it. I am happy that I have carried her work for a few years.  I wrote a brief tribute to Lessing’s writing and influence on my writing life here.


Dear Christine

We’d be delighted for you to host the poems for longer especially if you’re getting such good reactions. Doris Lessing was never very keen on her poetry and didn’t think it was any good so I doubt we will see a re-issue but at least this way, they are available in an alternative form.
Many thanks and best wishes

Vinca Haiku by Virginie Colline

Vinca Haiku

she grazes her scar
old blood the color of rust
on her maiden lace
charcoal and red smudge
nothing can make up the pain
the dark trudge quickens
tiny wallflower
you cannot hold a candle
you, periwinkle
Vinca Haiku is © Virginie Colline

The Spanish Girl Haiku

she follows the clouds
the breath of the summer wind
gently down her throat
explosion of light
the world was but a shadow
the minute before
vociferous sky
she walks through the bead curtain
the storm in her wake
suddenly the sun
the Sevillian girl rises
in a hiss of silk
The Spanish Girl Haiku is © Virginie Colline

Virginie Colline lives and writes in Paris. Her poems have appeared in The Scrambler, Notes from the Gean, Prune Juice, Frostwriting, Prick of the Spindle, Mouse Tales Press, StepAway Magazine, BRICKrhetoric, Overpass Books, Dagda Publishing, Silver Birch Press and Yes, Poetry, among others.

A Celebration of Irish Women Poets on Bloomsday 2013

Rebecca O’Connor

Domestic Bliss

I place a jug of lavender on the table
to mask the smell of mould from under the fridge
while you draw nails to hammer with your fist.
Then I draw a hammer , and watch
as you try to lift it from the page.
by day it’s Mr Men, Mad Men, by night,
your father and I wishing we could be so bold.
you have no such wants, though sometimes I wonder
as you try to peer into Jack and Jill’s well
or climb the tiny ladder of your toy farm
to mend the roof of your miniature barn.

–  Rebecca O’Connor

Rebecca O’Connor edits The Moth Magazine and organises the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize. She worked as a commissioning editor of literary fiction at Telegram Books in London before returning to Ireland with her family in 2008. She won a Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2004 and her chapbook Poems was published by the Wordsworth Trust, where she was a writer in residence in 2005. Her poetry has been published in, among other places, The Guardian, Poetry Review and The Spectator.

Kelly Creighton

World Put to Rights

The dream that burst riverbanks
held you; blackstrap molasses,
antidote for your poison.
Your plummets spraying wetness
like a coin in a cascade
woke no-one, not even us.
The church spire grew legs, scaled bricks,
ran to your side, spotlighted.
I put glass over that glow.
Quiet-huff of your refuge,
flailing arms, spluttering snores.
Ungainly crooning tunes
to the realms of purity;
I found too sickly-sweet. You
fought the humdrum, from your seat.
You would sleep outside, would sing,
stand on ledges mollified.
I won’t sing, no matter what.
Float on, keep your whistles of
booze-hounds. When I awaken
I will join you, watch for me.
World Put to Rights is © Kelly Creighton , all rights reserved.

Kelly Creighton

K. C
Kelly Creighton is a poet and writer with work currently and forthcoming in literary journals Ranfurly Review, A New Ulster, Electric Windmill Press, Inkspill Magazine, The Galway Review, Saudade Review, PEN Austria’s Time to Say: No! e-book, Recours au Poeme and other numerous other publications. She has recently finished editing her historical fiction novel Yielding Fruit. Kelly is working on her second poetry collection.

Moya Cannon

Viola D’Amore

Sometimes, love does die,
but sometimes , a stream on porous rock,
it slips down into the inner dark of a hill,
joins with other hidden streams
to travel blind as the white fish that live in it.
It forsakes one underground streambed
for the cave that runs under it.
Unseen , it informs the hill
and , like the hidden streams of the viola d’amore,
makes the hill reverberate,
so that people who wander there
wonder why the hill sings,
wonder why they find wells.
Viola D’Amore is ©  Moya Cannon
Bio (source Wikipedia)

downloadMoya Cannon was born in 1956 in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal. She studied History and Politics at University College Dublin, and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

She has taught in the Gaelscoil in Inchicore, in a school for adolescent travellers in Galway, and at the National University of Ireland in Galway. She served as editor of Poetry Ireland in 1995. Her work has appeared in a number of international anthologies and she has held writer-in-residence posts for Kerry County Council and Trent University Ontario (1994–95).

Cannon became a member of Aosdána, the affiliation of creative artists in Ireland, in 2004.

Her first book, Oar, (Salmon 1990, revised edition Gallery Press 2000) won the 1991 Brendan Behan Memorial Prize. It was followed by The Parchment Boat in 1997. Carrying the Songs: New and Selected Poems was published by Carcanet Press in 2007.

Dorothea Herbert

The Rights Of Woman,

Or Fashions for the Year 93 – being the Era of Women’s literally wearing the Breeches. – Health and Fraternity!
Whilst man is so busy asserting his Rights
Shall Woman lie still without gaining new lights
Our sex have been surely restrain’d enough
By stiff prudish Dress and such old fahion’d stuff
Too long have been fetter’d and tramelld I wot
With Cumbersome Trains and the Strict petticoat
Yet should a poor Wife dare her Tyrant to chide
Oh she wears the Breeches they tauntingly cried
But now we’re enlighten’d they’ll find to their Shame
We’ll have the reality not the bare Name
No longer will Woman to Satire be Dupe
For she is determin’d to figure Sans Jupe
And once she is rouzed she will not be outdone
Nor stop at this one Reformation alone
For mark me proud Man she’ll not yield thee a Jot
But soon will become e’en a true Sans-Culote
And flourish away e’er the Ending of Spring
Sans Jupe, Sans Culote , in short – sans any thing
– Ca va et ca…ira
–Liberty and Equality for ever ! 
© by Dorothea Herbert
from, Introspections, the Poetry and Private World of Dorothea Herbert by Frances Finnegan , Congrave Press 2011.
from Congrave Press

download (1)The “lost” poetry of the celebrated Irish writer Dorothea Herbert, whose Retrospections, first published in 1929-30 more than a century after her death, continues to captivate readers.  By turns amusing and melancholic, the recently recovered poems – and particularly her astonishing mock-heroic epic The Buckiad – are an important contribution to late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Irish literature.

Paula Meehan


The first warm day of spring
and I step out into the garden from the gloom
of a house where hope had died
to tally the storm damage, to seek what may
have survived. And finding some forgotten
lupins I’d sown from seed last autumn
holding in their fingers a raindrop each
like a peace offering, or a promise,
I am suddenly grateful and would
offer a prayer if I believed in God.
But not believing, I bless the power of seed,
its casual, useful persistence,
and bless the power of sun,
its conspiracy with the underground,
and thank my stars the winter’s ended.
‘Seed’ is © Paula Meehan, all rights reserved.

Paula Meehan

Image from Imagine Ireland
Image from Imagine Ireland

Paula Meehan has published five collections of poetry, the most recent being Painting Rain (Carcanet, 2009). A selected volume, entitled Mysteries of the Home, was published in 1996. Her writing for stage includes the plays Mrs Sweeney (1997), Cell (1999), and, for children, Kirkle (1995), The Voyage (1997) and The Wolf of Winter (2003/2004). Her poetry has been set to music by artists as diverse as the avant-garde composer John Wolf Brennan and the folksinger Christy Moore.

Eileen Sheehan

All About Climbing

After he slaughtered her
he dumped her body
in the market square
where merchants and citizens
continued their trading
averting their eyes
from the sight of
her broken corpse;
the limbs skewed
at grotesque angles.
A fly alighted on her eyelid
its blue-green body
gleaming like a jewel.
A mouse
nibbled flour
from under a fingernail.
A goat strayed from its pen
sniffed at her body
lay down beside her.
Her house cat
navigated the alleyways
of the rural town
till he found her.
A rat curled to sleep
in her armpit.
Then the last slice of moon
slid down from the sky,
lodged in the small of her back.
From high in the hay loft
an owl let out
it’s long note
across the dark
and that was the sound
she heard as she woke;
the sound that led her
to walk to the foot
of the mountain.
Now she carries
the moon on her back
and she climbs.
Her days are all about climbing;
all about purpose;
to restore the moon
to the sky:
hang it aloft.
So she climbs
in her blood-red shoes,
her tattered garments:
there is no slipping back.
© Eileen Sheehan
from the collection Down the Sunlit Hall (Doghouse Books)

Eileen Sheehan

Eileen Sheehan
Eileen Sheehan

Eileen Sheehan is from Killarney, Co Kerry. Her collections are Song of the Midnight Fox and Down the Sunlit Hall (Doghouse Books). Anthology publications include The Watchful Heart: A New Generation of Irish Poets (ed Joan McBreen/Salmon Poetry) and TEXT: A Transition Year English Reader (ed Niall MacMonagle/ Celtic Press). She has worked as Poet in Residence with Limerick Co Council Arts Office and is on the organizing committee for Éigse Michael Hartnett Literary & Arts Festival. Her third collection, The Narrow Place of Souls, is forthcoming.

Mary O’ Donnell


came to me in stamps.
“Magyar Posta” ice-skaters, delicate
as Empire porcelain, a fish, an astronaut
and rocket, a silvery boy on 1960s skis.
I understood only difference.
Now, flying home from Budapest,
I touch the pages of my poems, freshly minted
in translation. Now I really don’t get them,
but did I ever? The words will make me
briefly native to a coffee-slugging morning reader
on the Vaci Ut, who may not understand,
even in his own tongue.
The lines shimmer as night slips
through the tilting crowded cabin. Again
I press fingers to page, blind, as if by touch
I could capture a fish, an astronaut, a rocket,
or those elegant, ice-cutting skaters.
Outside, clouds I cannot see
busily translate country to country.

Hungary is ©  Mary O’ Donnell

Mary O' Donnell
Mary O’ Donnell

Mary O’Donnell is the author of eleven books, both poetry and fiction, and has also co-edited a book of translations from the Galician. Her titles include the best-selling literary novel “The Light-Makers”, “Virgin and the Boy”, and “The Elysium Testament”, as well as poetry such as “The Place of Miracles”, “Unlegendary Heroes”, and her most recent critically acclaimed sixth collection “The Ark Builders” (Arc Publications UK, 2009). She has been a teacher and has worked intermittently in journalism, especially theatre criticism. Her essays on contemporary literary issues are widely published. She also presented and scripted three series of poetry programmes for the national broadcaster RTE Radio, including a successful series on poetry in translation during 2005 and 2006 called ‘Crossing the Lines‘. Today, she teaches creative writing in a part time capacity at NUI Maynooth, and has worked on the faculty of Carlow University Pittsburgh’s MFA programme in creative writing, as well as on the faculty of the University of Iowa’s summer writing programme at Trinity College Dublin.