Wednesday, 29 April 2020

I Want A Poem I Can Grow Old In

Irish poet Eavan Boland, who died suddenly on April 27 at the age of 75, has been called “a formidable teacher, a force who would cut through the noise, get down to the elements and push writers to think about what truly mattered to them.” That persona blazes forth in her interviews, where she had knack for saying smart, powerful, piercing things about poetry. Gathered up here— plucked from eight interviews spanning her career—are some of those moments.
“I began to write in an Ireland where the word 'woman' and the word 'poet' seemed to be in some sort of magnetic opposition to each other. Ireland was a country with a compelling past, and the word 'woman' invoked all kinds of images of communality which were thought to be contrary to the life of anarchic individualism invoked by the word 'poet.' I found that a difficult and resistant atmosphere in which to write. I wanted to put the life I lived into the poem I wrote. And the life I lived was a woman's life. And I couldn't accept the possibility that the life of the woman would not, or could not, be named in the poetry of my own nation.” 
"I once saw a rock musician interviewed, and he was speaking about the past, and he said, “You know what? Even your influences have influences.” And so you want to hear about these cascading influences that produced the poem. When I read a poem that I admire particularly, like “The Moose” by Elizabeth Bishop, I think to myself, where did that come from? Where did that stanza form come from?”
“There has always been a difference, a very important difference, not always recognized but there, between the canon and tradition. The tradition is based on what Virginia Woolf called the common reader, the person who looks at poetry and reads it and makes it their own and says to someone else, 'You really have to read this.' The tradition trumps the canon in almost every way.”
“In poetry, one rule is true: it is the margin that defines the center, never the center that defines the margin. Look at the history of poetry. Look at 1804, when the 18th century was finished, as the central model, Wordsworth, was on its margin. People in the locale think he’s a French spy. Nobody’s interested in him. He’s out in lake country. And he writes the preface to the Lyrical Ballads, which sets the terms. So it is always the margin that defines the center.”
“Nothing seemed effortless when I was young. Nothing seems effortless now. I wrote poems when I was young which I couldn’t write now, and I write poems now which I couldn’t write when I was young. As much as possible, I’ve taken an unstressed approach to that. In the end, one fact is always going to be there; no one is going to write your poems but you. You just have to do your best with that.”
“One of the biggest changes in poetry over the last century is that the 'we' of traditional poetry—the shared purposes poems explore of society, nation, religion—began to fade at the start of the twentieth century. A poet could no longer write we with certainty and be absolutely sure they were making a poem out of shared values. Poets from the Middle Ages to Victorian times had certainly been able to do that. But after two world wars, the decline of organized religion, and the huge changes in society, the audience was now more fractured and far less willing to share their world with the poet. A poet can still write 'I,' of course. But without the 'we,' that 'I' was inevitably going to seem much more subjective and self-involved. I know it sounds strange to say that two pronouns could influence an art as old and established as poetry, but they did and they still do.”
“I'm a feminist. I'm not a feminist poet. I've said somewhere else that I think feminism has real power and authority as an ethic, but none at all as an aesthetic. My poetry begins for me where certainty ends. I think the imagination is an ambiguous and untidy place, and its frontiers are not accessible to the logic of feminism for that reason.”
"It's too much a received truth of poetry critics to talk about formalism in a young poet as something negative, or as covering an evasion of feeling. I don't quite see it that way. There is a fear of feeling in almost every emerging poet. You're not sure what's the proper self and what's simply untransmuted egotism."
"Good nature poets are always subversive. Someone like Frost, or the best of John Clare, for example. Their lexicon is the overlooked and disregarded. They are revelatory poets. They single out the devalued and make a deep, metaphorical relation between it and some devalued parts of perception. That's why the good poem about ice cracking on the apple trees or the name for the ladybird is so satisfying, and at levels that have little to do with the exact subject. What happens is that the poet becomes the agent in the poem for a different way of seeing. And not just for seeing that particular thing."
"I want a poem I can grow old in. I want a poem I can die in. That's a very different undertaking for a woman poet than for a poet like Yeats who had the precedents and voices behind him. A women poet has to try to grow old in poems in which she has been fixed in youth."
“I often say to students, if it is a really strong poem, you never really put it down and say ‘that’s beautiful.' You put it down and say ‘that’s true.'”

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