Poetry has been an integral part of Eavan Boland’s life since she was a young girl. In college she wrote her first publication, 23 Poems. She has gone on to publish nearly 20 books of poetry, winning awards and accolades from readers and critics alike. Boland, a self-described “woman poet,” has always had trouble reconciling those two words. “It was like there was a magnetic opposition between the two concepts,” she said. “The woman coming from the collective sense of nurture in Ireland, and the poet coming from the much more individualist, creative realm.” Mary Robinson quoted Eavan Boland’s poetry during her inaugural speech as President of Ireland in Dublin Castle on 3 December 1990, and on 15 March 2016 President Obama quoted lines from her poem “On a Thirtieth Anniversary” (from Against Love Poetry) in his remarks at a reception in the White House to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.
Boland’s is a fascinating career which develops from her early attachment to Yeats, her growing unease with the absence of women’s writing, her encounter with pioneering American poets like Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, and Adrienne Rich, and her lucid, critical engagement through poetry and prose with Ireland’s poetic tradition.
Guest of Honour: Eavan Boland
Boland, the youngest of five children, was born in Dublin in 1944. Her father was a diplomat, her mother, Frances Kelly, an artist. The family moved to London when Boland was six and she went to school there until 1956. Her poem An Irish Childhood in England: 1951 recalls her sense of otherness at this early age:
…the teacher in the London convent who,
when I produced “I amn’t” in the classroom
turned and said — “You’re not in Ireland now.”
During her father’s next posting, from 1956 until 1960, the family lived in New York. Boland returned to Dublin and to boarding school at the Convent of the Holy Child in Killiney when she was fifteen. At Trinity College she studied Latin and English and graduated with a first-class honours degree in 1966. She lectured in Trinity 1967-1968 and then resigned to devote her time to writing. She wrote poems as a child and had published poems in the Irish Times while still an undergraduate. She published her first collection, New Territory, in 1967, when she was twenty-two. During the 1970s she gave writing workshops throughout Ireland and in 1980 she co-founded Arlen House, an Irish feminist press.
For Boland, what she calls ‘the placelessness of her childhood’ and ‘her emphatic sense of living in a suburb in her own home’ were important influences on her work. In 1969, in her mid-twenties, she married the novelist Kevin Casey. They moved to a house in the Dublin suburbs in the early 1970s and have two daughters. A grandchild was born in 2014. She has written of motherhood and suburban life and according to Declan Kiberd ‘She is one of the very few Irish poets to describe with any fidelity the lives now lived by half a million people in the suburbs of Dublin.’
Since 1996, Boland spends the academic year at Stanford College, Palo Alto, California, where she is a Professor of Humanities and Director of the Creative Writing Programme, but she calls Dundrum home. Speaking in 1988, Boland said of herself: ‘I see myself as an Irish poet, I think it’s important that Irish poets have a discourse with the idea of Irishness, and I think it’s probably very important that an Irish woman poet doesn’t shirk that discourse because there have been gaps, vacancies or silences in literature’.