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Eavan Boland: Inside History

Siobhan Campbell and Nessa O'Mahony (eds)
Arlen House
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From the Introduction by Siobhan Campbell and Nessa O'Mahony

Eavan Boland's presence as poet, critic and teacher has been of major importance for generations of writers and the occasion of her seventieth birthday in 2014 prompted a surge of interest in the work of this leading Irish poet. Symposiums and public discussions were held and a number of celebratory and critical publications appeared with the aim of bringing a new focus to the writer and her work. No reading of contemporary poetry in English would be complete without taking full account of Boland's oeuvre and this collection is intended to offer a reappraisal of Boland's influence as a poet and critic in the twenty-first century. This book seeks to critically re-encounter the work, offering essays, interviews and creative responses. To do so it brings together writers and thinkers from Ireland and the UK, from Europe and the USA to address the tropes, themes and craft of Boland's work in varied and surprising ways. The thrust of this volume is to read the poetry of Boland anew. The book thus attempts to re­position Boland scholarship, offering new ways forward with a focus on the most important aspect: the poems themselves.

Eavan Boland is always considered an Irish poet, though she has made much of her professional and poetic career in the US. Boland's work is characterised by the art of making the personal understood as political. She is known for a distinctive expression of the realities of family life as well as for subverting ideas of nationhood and of the place of the poet in relation to tradition. Re-readings of history and mythology are animated by a keen awareness of the dangers of inherited myth and stereotype while her explorations of married love are paired with a fierce critique of the idea of 'love poetry' in the canon.

Boland is the recipient of the Lannan Award for Poetry and an American-Ireland Fund Literary Award. She is represented in the major anthologies of poetry from both sides of the Atlantic including The Norton Anthology of Poetry (Norton, 1998), Americans' Favorite Poems (Norton, 1999), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Norton 1999), The Body Electric: America's Best Poetry from the American Poetry Review (Norton, 2000), The Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Twentieth Century (2002) as well as in The Faber Anthology of Irish Verse, The Penguin Anthology of Irish Verse and the Pan Anthology of Irish Verse.

Boland has taught or been a visiting professor at Trinity College, Dublin; the School of Irish Studies, Dublin; University College, Dublin; Bowdoin College, Maine and the University of Utah. Currently she holds the Bella Mabury and Eloise Mabury Knapp Professorship in Humanities and is Director of the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University, California where she previously held the Melvin and Bill Lane chair. She has also been Hurst Professor at Washington University and Regent's Lecturer at the University of Santa Barbara. She has served on the board of the Irish Arts Council and was also a member of the Irish Academy of Letters. She is also a member of the advisory board of the International Writers Centre at Washington University.

The daughter of Frederick Boland, a diplomat, and Frances Kelly, a noted artist, Eavan Boland was born in Dublin in 1944. She spent part of her childhood in London and in New York, later studying at Trinity College, Dublin. Her first two collections, 23 Poems (1962) and Autumn Essay (1963) were published before she was twenty years of age. Even as a young poet, Boland was acutely aware that the act of writing takes place within a constructed and possibly constrictive environment. In Object Lessons, she writes, T began to write in an enclosed self-confident literary culture'. It would become part of her life's work to open up that literary culture, sifting it with feminist ideas as well as with her revision of the 'proper' subjects of the poem and consequently rendering it less enclosed and more aware of its own contingencies.

A strong supporter of how the poetry workshop can democratise literary access, Boland is known for her encouragement of early-stage poets and for her generosity as a teacher. Her essay 'In Defence of Workshops' defends the creative writing workshop as a place which could subvert the literary establishment's refusal to give 'societal permission to be a poet'. Her work to almost single-handedly open up possibilities for poets in terms of subject matter and approach is noted by many critics including Fiona Sampson in a review of Domestic Violence: 'her highly-articulated ars poetica has already remapped the territory of contemporary poetry'.