Eavan Boland

b. 1944
Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1944. The daughter of a diplomat and a painter, Boland spent her girlhood in London and New York, returning to Ireland to attend secondary school in Killiney and later university at Trinity College in Dublin. Though still a student when she published her first collection, 23 Poems (1962), Boland’s early work is informed by her experiences as a young wife and mother, and her growing awareness of the troubled role of women in Irish history and culture. Over the course of her long career, Eavan Boland has emerged as one of the foremost female voices in Irish literature. Throughout her many collections of poetry, in her prose memoir Object Lessons (1995), and in her work as a noted anthologist and teacher, Boland has honed an appreciation for the ordinary in life. The poet and critic Ruth Padel described Boland’s “commitment to lyric grace and feminism” even as her subjects tend to “the fabric of domestic life, myth, love, history, and Irish rural landscape.” Keenly aware of the problematic associations and troubled place that women hold in Irish culture and history, Boland has always written out of an urge to make an honest account of female experience. In an interview with readers on the website A Smartish Pace, Boland herself described the “difficult situation” of her early years as a poet: “I began to write in an Ireland where the word ‘woman’ and the word ‘poet’ seemed to be in some sort of magnetic opposition to each other. Ireland was a country with a compelling past, and the word ‘woman’ invoked all kinds of images of communality which were thought to be contrary to the life of anarchic individualism invoked by the word ‘poet’…I wanted to put the life I lived into the poem I wrote. And the life I lived was a woman’s life. And I couldn’t accept the possibility that the life of the woman would not, or could not, be named in the poetry of my own nation.”

Boland’s poetry is known for subverting traditional constructions of womanhood, as well as offering fresh perspectives on Irish history and mythology. Her fifth book, In Her Own Image (1980), brought Boland international recognition and acclaim. Exploring topics such as domestic violence, anorexia, infanticide and cancer, the book also announced Boland’s on-going concern with inaccurate and muffled portrayals of women in Irish literature and society. Her next books, including Night Feed (1982) and her first volume of selected poems Outside History (1990), continue to explore questions of female identity. Though Boland has been described as a feminist, her approach is not an overtly political one. Perhaps this is because she is not content, as a poet, to uphold one view of things to the exclusion of all others: hers is a voice, in the words of Melanie Rehak in the New York Times Book Review, “that is by now famous for its unwavering feminism as well as its devotion to both the joys of domesticity and her native Ireland.” In a Time of Violence (1994), winner of a Lannan award and shortlisted for the prestigious T.S. Eliot prize, contains poems that gesture towards private and political realities at once. In poems such as “That the Science of Cartography is Limited” and “Anna Liffey,” Boland constructs a world that is influenced by history, the present-day and mythology and yet remains intensely personal. It is a recipe that Boland has perfected in her work since.

Against Love Poetry (2001), published as Code in the UK, displays the scope of Boland’s knowledge and her awareness of tradition. “So much of European love poetry,” she told Alice Quinn of the New Yorker online, “is court poetry, coming out of the glamorous traditions of the court…There’s little about the ordinariness of love.” Seeking a poetry that would express the beauty of the plain things that make up most people’s existences, she found that she would have to create it for herself. It is “dailiness,” as Boland called it, that reviewers often find, and praise, in Boland’s poetry. By focusing on “dailiness,” Boland is also attempting to delineate the contours of a new vision of history. Reviewing Code for the Times Literary Supplement, Clare Wills noted that “Boland is a master at reading history in the configurations of landscape, at seeing space as the registration of time. If only we know how to look, there are means of deciphering the hidden, fragmentary messages from the past, of recovering lives from history’s enigmatic scramblings.” Domestic Violence (2007) weaves different and competing kinds of history—the national, the personal, the domestic—together in poems that also meditate on the legacy of Irish poetry itself. Reviewing the collection for Poetry Review, Jay Parini noted: “The literal site of these poems is often Ireland itself, with its heroic gestures, high rhetoric, and (sometimes pretentious) symbol-making held in abeyance, even fended off. Boland brilliantly attacks, and nullifies, this tradition.” Parini added that “Boland is, in her quiet way, as melodramatic as any of her forbears. This is always what I have liked about her, the clash of intention and manifestation.”

Boland’s second volume of collected work, New Collected Poems, was published in 2008 to glowing reviews. Salvaging numerous poems from her first books, as well as a previously-unpublished verse play, the book demonstrates Boland’s restless and incessant attempt to escape from, or at the very least complicate, the Irish lyric tradition she inherited. Anne Fogarty, in the Irish Book Review declared New Collected Poems “acts as a timely reminder of the significance and innovatory force of Boland’s achievement as a poet and of the degree to which so many of her texts…have lastingly altered the contours of Irish writing. Modern Irish poetry would be unthinkable without her presence. New Collected Poems valuably updates the record of Eavan Boland’s artistic output. More vitally, it underscores the vibrancy of her ongoing project as a poet who is doubtless one of the foremost writers in contemporary Ireland.”

 

[Updated 2010]

Career

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, lecturer; School of Irish Studies, Dublin, lecturer; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp Professor in Humanities and director of creative writing program. Has taught at University College, Dublin, at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME, at the University of Utah, and as Hurst Professor at Washington University, St. Louis, 1993. Participated in the University of Iowa International Writing Program, 1979.

Bibliography

POETRY

  • 23 Poems, Gallagher (Dublin, Ireland), 1962.
  • Autumn Essay, Gallagher (Dublin, Ireland), 1963.
  • New Territory, Allen Figgis & Co. (Dublin, Ireland), 1967.
  • The War Horse, Gollancz (London, England), 1975.
  • In Her Own Image, Arlen House (Dublin, Ireland), 1980.
  • Introducing Eavan Boland, Ontario Review Press (New York, NY), 1981.
  • Night Feed, M. Boyars (Boston, MA), 1982.
  • The Journey, Deerfield Press (Deerfield, MA), 1983.
  • The Journey and Other Poems, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 1987.
  • Selected Poems, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 1989.
  • Outside History: Selected Poems, 1980-1990, Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
  • In a Time of Violence, Norton (New York, NY), 1994.
  • A Dozen Lips, Attic Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1994.
  • A Christmas Chalice, State University of New York at Buffalo (Buffalo, NY), 1994.
  • Collected Poems, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 1995, published as An Origin Like Water: Collected Poems, 1967-1987, Norton (New York, NY), 1996.
  • Anna Liffey, Poetry Ireland (Dublin, Ireland), 1997.
  • The Lost Land, Norton (New York, NY), 1998.
  • Limitations, Center for the Book Arts (New York, NY), 2000.
  • Against Love Poetry, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Code, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 2001.
  • New Collected Poems, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 2005.
  • Domestic Violence, Norton (New York, NY), 2007.
  • New Collected Poems, Norton (New York, NY), 2008.

OTHER

  •  Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
  • (Co-editor, with Mark Strand) The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, Norton (New York, NY), 2000.
  • (Editor) Journey with Two Maps: An Anthology, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 2002.
  • (Editor) Three Irish Poets: An Anthology: Eavan Boland, Paula Meehan, Mary O’Malley, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 2003.
  • (Translator) After Every War: Twentieth-Century Women Poets, Princeton University Press (Princeton, New Jersey), 2006.
  • (Editor) Irish Writers on Writing (The Writer’s World), Trinity University Press (San Antonio, Texas), 2007.
  • (Editor) The Selected Poems of Charlotte Mew, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 2008.
  • (Co-editor, with Ed Hirsch) The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology, Norton (New York, NY), 2008.

Work represented in anthologies, including The Observer Arvon Poetry Collection, Guardian Newspapers (London, England), 1994; Penguin Modern Poets, Penguin (London, England), 1995; To Persephone, Wesleyan University Press with the New England Foundation for the Arts (Hanover, NH), 1996; The Norton Anthology of Poetry, edited by Margaret Ferguson, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy, Norton, 1998; American’s Favorite Poems, edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz, Norton, 1999; The Norton Anthology of English Literature, edited by M. H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt, Norton, 1999; The Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review, edited by Stephen Berg, David Bonanno, and Arthur Vogelsang, Norton, 2000; The Longman Anthology of Women’s Literature, edited by Mary K. Deshazer, Longman, 2000; The Norton Introduction to Literature, eighth edition, edited by J. Paul Hunter, Alison Booth, and Kelly J. Mays, Norton, 2001; and The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Twentieth Cenbury, edited by David Damrosch, Addison-Wesley Longman, 2002; and Faber Anthology of Irish Verse, Penguin Anthology of Irish Verse, Pan Anthology of Irish Verse, and Sphere Anthology of Irish Verse.

OTHER

  • (With Michael MacLiammoir) W. B. Yeats and His World, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 1971, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 1986.
  • The Emigrant Irish, The British Council (London, England), 1986.
  • A Kind of Scar: The Woman Poet in a National Tradition, Attic Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1989.
  • (With Aileen MacKeogh and Brian P. Kennedy) House, Dublin Project (Dublin, Ireland), 1991.
  • Gods Make Their Own Importance: The Authority of the Poet in Our Time, Society Productions (London, England), 1994.
  • Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
  • (With Harriet Levin) The Christmas Show, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1997.
  • (Editor, with John Hollander) Committed to Memory: 100 Best Poems to Memorize, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1997.
  • The Lost Land, W. W. Norton & Company (New York, NY), 1998.
  • (Editor, with Mark Strand) The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, Norton (New York, NY), 2000.
  • (Editor, with J. D. McClatchy), Horace, the Odes, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2002.

Regular contributor to Irish Times. Contributor to Irish Press, Spectator, American Poetry Review, and Soundings.

Further Reading

BOOKS

  • Adams, Henry, The Education of Henry Adams, introduction by Edmund Morris, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
  • Boland, Eavan, In a Time of Violence, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.
  • Boland, Eavan, An Origin like Water, Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 40, 1986, Volume 67, 1992.
  • Coyne, J. Stirling and N. P. Willis, Scenery and Antiquitites of Ireland, Virtue (London, England), 1840.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 40: Poets of Great Britain and Ireland since 1960, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
  • Haberstroh, Patricia Boyle, Women Creating Women: Contemporary Irish Women Poets, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 1996.
  • Joyce, Weston St. John, The Neighborhood of Dublin, M. H. Gill & Son (Dublin, Ireland), 1939.
  • Yeats, W. B., Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, Macmillan (London, England), 1936.

PERIODICALS

  • American Poetry Review, September, 1999, review of The Lost Land, p. 7.
  • Bloomsbury Review, March, 1998, review of Object Lessons, p. 22.
  • Booklist, March 15, 1994, p. 1322; February 15, 1996, p. 983; October 15, 1998, review of The Lost Land, p. 389; March 15, 1999, review of The Lost Land, p. 1276.
  • Commonweal, November 4, 1988, p. 595.
  • Entertainment Weekly, January 15, 1999, review of The Lost Land, p. 58.
  • Hudson Review, August, 1999, review of The Lost Land, p. 507.
  • Irish Literary Supplement, fall, 1994, p. 23; fall, 1995, p. 8; spring, 1996, p. 30; spring 1999, review of The Lost Land, p. 15.
  • Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1998, review of The Lost Land, p. 1492.
  • Library Journal, November 15, 1990, p. 74; March 1, 1994, p. 90; July, 2001, Frank Allen, review of Against Love Poetry, pp. 94-95.
  • Nation, June 6, 1994, p. 798; April 24, 1995, p. 564.
  • New Statesman & Society, January 26, 1996, p. 40.
  • New York Review of Books, May 26, 1994, p. 25.
  • New York Times Book Review, April 21, 1991, p. 40; November 4, 2001, Melanie Rehak, "Map of Love."
  • Poetry, July, 1990, p. 236; October, 1994, p. 41; February, 1998, review of An Origin Like Water, p. 282.
  • Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1990, p. 62; December 18, 1995, p. 51; August 31, 1998, review of The Lost Land, p. 69.
  • Southern Review, spring, 1999, review of The Lost Land, p. 387.
  • Times Literary Supplement, August 5, 1994, p. 19; September 8, 1995, p. 28; December 10, 1999, review of The Lost Land, p. 23.
  • Women's Review of Books, September, 1995, p. 7; April, 1999, review of The Lost Land, p. 17.
  • Yale Review, July, 1999, review of The Lost Land, p. 167.

OTHER

  • Academy of American Poets Web Site, http://www.poets.org/ (September 18, 2001), "Eavan Boland."
  • Carcanet Press Web site, http://www.carcanet.co.uk/ (October 16, 2002), Jody Allen Randolph, "A Backward Look: An Interview with Eavan Boland."
  • Skoool.ie Interactive Learning, http://www.skoool.ie/ (October 16, 2002), "Eavan Boland."
  • New Yorker Web site, http://www.newyorker.com/ (October 29, 2001), Alice Quinn, "Q&A: The Stoicisms of Love" (interview with Eavan Boland).

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POET’S REGION Ireland

LIFE SPAN 1944–

Eavan Boland

Biography

Eavan Boland was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1944. The daughter of a diplomat and a painter, Boland spent her girlhood in London and New York, returning to Ireland to attend secondary school in Killiney and later university at Trinity College in Dublin. Though still a student when she published her first collection, 23 Poems (1962), Boland’s early work is informed by her experiences as a young wife and mother, and her growing . . .

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