Eavan Boland 1944-
(Full name Eavan Aisling Boland) Irish poet and critic.
Boland is viewed as one of the most important poets in contemporary Irish literature. Critics commend her exploration of feminist issues in her work, particularly the role of women in Irish literature and society. In her poetry she has also subverted traditional Irish mythology and concepts of female identity in order to express a more accurate perspective on the contributions and achievements of women in Irish history, politics, and culture.
Boland was born on September 24, 1944, in Dublin. Her father, the Irish diplomat Frederick H. Boland, was posted in 1950 as the Irish Ambassador to the Court of St. James in London, and then in 1956 as the President of the United Nations General Assembly. Growing up in London and New York City, Boland felt alienated from her Irish heritage, particularly in London, where she encountered prejudice against the Irish. As a teenager she returned to Ireland and attended the Holy Child Convent in Killiny, County Dublin. She immersed herself in Irish culture and began to write poetry. In 1962 she attended Trinity College in Dublin and published her first collection of verse, 23 Poems. In 1966 she received degrees in English and Latin from Trinity and was hired by the English department as a lecturer. In a short time, however, she left Trinity and became a full-time literary critic and poet. Much of her early poetry focused on domestic concerns, such as marriage, children, and her home in a suburb of Dublin. Yet with the publication of In Her Own Image (1980), critics began to take notice of her exploration of feminist issues, particularly the role of female poets within the patriarchal literary establishment in Ireland. Her work generated much controversy and brought her international recognition as a feminist literary figure. She has taught at several universities, including University College, Dublin; Bowdoin College; the University of Utah; and Stanford University. In addition, she has received several awards for her work, such as the Lannan Award for Poetry in 1994, the Bucknell Medal of Merit in 2000, and the Frederick Nims Memorial Prize in 2002.
Boland's early poems were conventional in style, centered on a celebration of domestic issues such as marriage and children, and were heavily influenced by the work of William Butler Yeats. Yet even at this early stage she demonstrated a recurring interest in the role of women in Irish literature and society, which later became a central thematic concern of her poetry and essays. In In Her Own Image, Boland explores such topics as domestic abuse, anorexia, breast cancer, and infanticide. She also addresses the lack of real women in Irish myths and national history and announces her suspicion of the male literary tradition and its portrayal of women. Night Feed (1982) considers the concept of female identity through an examination of ordinary women as well as female figures who have been marginalized in Irish mythology. Through these depictions of regular women, she celebrates the complexity of women's lives. In Outside History (1990) she continues her exploration of female identity, and strives to uncover the silence of generations of women whose lives and contributions to history and culture have been largely ignored. For example, “The Achill Woman” portrays Boland's encounter, during a stay in Achill, with an old woman, who discusses of the Irish Famine and the people's struggle to survive such difficult times. The poet relates this woman's story to her own life and realizes her own failure in recognizing the importance of this woman's voice and her own connection to women throughout Irish history. In these collections, Boland also rejects the notion that women who live in suburbia and raise families are unworthy of attention. Her poetry celebrates the beauty in these lives and the importance of family, marriage, and domestic responsibilities. The Lost Land (1998) returns to the dynamics of family, as Boland reflects on her children growing up and leaving home and the ways in which this process affects her sense of identity. In Against Love Poetry (2001), Boland once again finds value and beauty in everyday existence and explores the tension between marriage and independence.
Boland has emerged as one of the most important female voices in Irish poetry. Feminist critics have applauded her attempts to locate herself within the Irish poetic tradition by rejecting and reexamining the limited, traditional role of women in Irish mythology and history. By subverting these myths and history, they contend, she succeeds in repossessing her identity as an Irish woman and poet. In a broader sense, critics maintain, Boland's poetic development reflects the dramatic political and cultural shifts in Ireland in the past several decades. Commentators have noted the exploration of such controversial themes as child abuse, violence against women, self-esteem, and eating disorders in her verse. She also touches on issues of alienation, assimilation, identification, and exile. Critics praise her painterly consciousness, poignant lyrics, keen sense of poetic ethics, and use of the concrete to reveal hidden stories in Irish histories. A few critics caution against a strict feminist reading of her poems, contending that this minimizes her work and her contribution to modern poetry. Others have derided her verse as strident and accuse her of mythologizing the domestic sphere and the suburban life. Yeats and Adrienne Rich are regarded as profound influences on Boland's poetry, and commentators have found affinities between the poetry of Boland and Seamus Heaney.