15 December 2004

Eavan Boland

A wonderful book about Eavan Boland's evolution as a poet, and a woman. Here are some quotes to encourage you to read it:

[Boland quoting Matthew Arnold]: "for poetry the idea is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry attaches its emotion to the idea; the idea is the fact."

[Boland re Arnold]: "I did not understand that to invest the imagination with sacramental powers restores to poetry not its religious force but its magical function. . . . But magic is the search for control over an unruly environment; it is also the most inferior of the past associations of poetry. . . . I did not know that the best such magic could achieve would be a simplification of life based on a dread of it."

[Boland quoting a don at Trinity College in Dublin in response to Boland's question about form]: "The elements of form, he said, were often inseparable from the factors of external compromise. Think of a play. The three hours of spatial construct -- the stage, the lights, the seating -- these influenced even the deepest secrets of the final product."

[Boland after hearing the don's words]: "Already I sensed that real form -- the sort that made time turn and wander when you read a poem -- came from a powerful meeting between a hidden life and a hidden chance in language. If they found each other, then each could come out of hiding."

Much of what she explores in the text is the question of how to become a woman poet in Ireland in a time when all Irish poets were men and control of the nation of Ireland [as now] was in dispute.

[Boland] "what I found was a rhetoric of imagery which alienated me: a fusion of the national and the feminine which seemed to simplify both."

[Boland]: "What, for instance, if I chose to engage with language at the level of my apparent life and not my hidden [female] one? What if I wrote out of the plausible, asexual persona offered to me, obliquely and persuasively, in conversation with other [male] poets? Would it be so wrong to deny a womanhood -- an ordinary condition, after all -- so as to hold on to this extraordinary privilege of being a young poet?"

[Boland on ethics in a poetic tradition]: "Who the poet is, what he or she nominates as a proper theme for poetry, what selves poets discover and confirm through this subject matter -- all of this involves an ethical choice. The more volatile the material -- and a wounded history, public or private, is always volatile -- the more intensely ethical the choice."

[Boland quoting Allen Tate]: "For what is the poet responsible? He is responsible for the virtue proper to him as a poet . . . for the mastery of a disciplined language which will not shun the full report of the reality conveyed to him by his awareness."

[Boland]: "All good poetry depends on an ethical relation between imagination and image. Images are not ornaments; they are truths."

[Boland]: "The final effect of the political poem depends on whether it is viewed by the reader as an act of freedom or an act of power. . . . The mover of the poem's action -- the voice, the speaker -- must be at the same risk from that action as every other component in the poem. If that voice is exempt, then the reader will hear it as omniscient; if it is omniscient, it can still commend the ratio of power to powerlessness -- but with the reduced authority of an observer."

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