|Posted by susanjmcleod on November 12, 2011 at 10:55 PM|
An overflow audience had the pleasure of experiencing a remarkable performance by Irish poet Eavan Boland last Thursday night. The atmosphere was electric as students, faculty, and guests of all ages waited. We knew something special was coming. We knew we were in the presence of a great talent.
Then Ms. Boland got up to speak, and I was struck by the contradiction between my expectations and reality. This is not to say that she disappointed. On the contrary, she surpassed herself. But I was surprised to find that I still had a vestige of an idea of what A Poet should be like. Flamboyant, dramatic, larger than life. Ms. Boland is none of these. She is a woman who immediately puts people at their ease, direct, warm and genuine. These are qualities that Hyam Plutzik also possessed, so there was symmetry to Ms. Boland’s appearance at the Plutzik Reading Series.
She talked about herself a little, and then began with her poem “Quarantine.” I was crying before she was halfway through. It comes from her book Against Love Poetry, but is the most moving testament to love I’ve ever heard. It comes from a true tale of a couple during the Irish Potato Famine. The wife had famine fever, and was too weak to walk, so the husband carried her home from the workhouse. They were both found dead the next day, with the husband holding his wife’s feet to his breastbone in a last, futile attempt to warm her. Boland writes:
“Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:
Their death together in the winter of 1847.
Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.”
Just my opinion, but suddenly Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” seemed trivial in comparison.
It is with ordinary life that Ms. Boland concerns herself. Marriage. Family. She told an amusing story about her husband’s books taking over their house. She made a poem about it too; “Thanked Be Fortune,” where in the books on the shelves above their bed
“all through the hours of darkness,
men and women
wept, cursed, kept and broke faith
and killed themselves for love.”
But when she and her husband awake, they lay quietly together and listen to their baby’s crying “as if to birdsong.”
We were also treated to, among others, “The Glass King,” “Amber,” “The Pomegranate,” and “That the Science of Cartography is Limited.”
In her verse, told in a straightforward, almost conversational manner, Eavan Boland encapsulates the human spirit. Her poems are extremely powerful. When she spoke about the violence in Irish history, and how people tried to carry on with their everyday lives as it wreaked its havoc, I heard an echo of Yeats and “that dead young soldier in his blood” from “Meditations in Time of Civil War.” It seems to me, through her writings, that Eavan Boland is building in the empty house of the stare.