Boland in 1996
24 September 1944 |
|Occupation||Poet, author, professor|
|Alma mater||Trinity College, Dublin|
|Notable awards||Jacob’s Award
|Spouse||Kevin Casey (m. 1969)|
It is certainly true that writers take a stance at some variance from organized religion. This has not always been true. But since the romantic movement – and I'm referring now exclusively to poetry – the emphasis has been on the individual imagination defined against, rather than in terms of, any orthodoxy.
I know now that I began writing in a country where the word 'woman' and the word 'poet' were almost magnetically opposed. One word was used to invoke collective nurture, the other to sketch out self-reflective individualism. Both states were necessary – that much the culture conceded – but they were oil and water and could not be mixed.
During my twenties and thirties, my interest in the political poem increased as my apparent access to it declined. I sensed resistances around me. I was married; I lived in a suburb; I had small children.
In my thirties I found myself, to use a colloquial fiction, in a suburban house at the foothills of the Dublin mountains. Married and with two little daughters, I led a life which would have been recognizable to any woman who had led it and to many others who had not.
In those years of the Fifties, in London and New York, I lived, without knowing it, in a time when the profoundest changes were happening: when a radical alteration was getting ready to happen in the way a society saw young girls. And, as a consequence, in the way they saw themselves.
There is nothing settled about a poet's identity. The becoming doesn't stop because the being has been achieved. They proceed together, attached in ways that are hard to be exact about.
One of the things women poets have been engaged in – among the other things they've been doing – is revising parts of the poetic self. Re-examining notions of the authority within the poem, and of the poem.
I had studied Irish history. I had read speeches from the dock. I had tried to fuse the vivid past of my nation with the lost spaces of my childhood. I had learned the battles, the ballads, the defeats. It never occurred to me that eventually the power and insistence of a national tradition would offer me only a new way of not belonging.
When I was young, I struggled with authorship: with everything the word meant and failed to mean. Irish poetry was heavy with custom. Sometimes at night, when I tried to write, a ghost hand seemed to hold mine. Where could my life, my language fit in?
I didn't know how to weigh ideas about poetry. Nothing in the life I lived as a student – and later as wife and mother at the suburban edge of Dublin – suggested I had the wherewithal to do so. But I did have a unit of measurement. It was the measure of my own life.
I had grown up as an Irish poet in a country where the distance between vision and imagination was not quite as wide as in some other countries.
I had started writing as a poet in a closed, post-Revival, claustrophobic world, where the shadows of the national upheaval and the intense effort – the intense self-conscious effort – to make a literary movement were still evident. Now we lived a life as writers that was more cosmopolitan, more open, that had more travel and exchange.
New voices in an old art – and women poets have been that for much more than a century – do not diminish the art through the category. They enrich it. They renew it with common quandaries of craft and innovation. The category simply allows the quandaries to be seen more clearly.
The nineteenth century, especially the second half of it, was a time of restatement in Ireland. After the famine, after the failed rebellions of the Forties and Sixties, the cultural and political desires for self-determination began to shape each other in a series of riffs on independence and identity.
I began to write in an enclosed, self-confident literary culture. The poet's life stood in a burnished light in the Ireland of that time. Poets were still poor, had little sponsored work, and could not depend on a sympathetic reaction to their poetry. But the idea of the poet was honored.
As far as I was concerned, it was the absence of women in the poetic tradition which allowed women in the poems to be simplified. The voice of a woman poet would, I was sure, have precluded such distortion. It did not exist.
I still believe many poets begin in fear and hope: fear that the poetic past will turn out to be a monologue rather than a conversation. And hope that their voice can be heard as that past turns into a future.
If a poet does not tell the truth about time, his or her work will not survive it. Past or present, there is a human dimension to time, human voices within it, and human griefs ordained by it.
I was a foggy, erratic teenager: a fifth child, the last in the queue for conversation or attention.
I was Irish; I was a woman. Yet night after night, bent over the table, I wrote in forms explored and sealed by English men hundreds of years before. I saw no contradiction.
Poetry begins where language starts: in the shadows and accidents of one person's life.
Our present will become the past of other men and women. We depend on them to remember it with the complexity with which it was suffered. As others, once, depended on us.
There is a recurring temptation for any nation, and for any writer who operates within its field of force, to make an ornament of the past: to turn the losses to victories and to restate humiliations as triumphs.
The twentieth century had produced a literature in Ireland that kept a tense distance from the sources of faith – and for good reason. Irish writing had suffered a terrible censorship in the twentieth century.
I would come to understand there is no poem separable from its source. I began to see that poems are not just an individual florescence. They are also a vast root system growing down into ideas and understandings. Almost unbidden, they tap into the history and evolution of art and language.
At the age of seventeen, I left school. I went to university, and I wrote my first attempts at poetry in a room in a flat at the edge of the city.