Eavan Boland, Against Love Poetry, New York, Norton, 2001. $21


“As if to music, as if to peace” closes this slim volume of lyrics. But here it is the “rust” on the music, the peace, love, and nature that compels us through the verses. Rust here authenticates, in the sense of making real. It is the slight flaw that matters, the flaw that works against the grain. For Boland this is the “rust on the gate,” the rust that “marks the daily contradictions” which Boland writes of and uses “against love poetry.”

This rust is not corroding, it is a rust that enlivens the too-perfect dreams we all would have if we could, those pale and lifeless dreams that fill our media and, too often, our lives, the dreams that are the “love poetry“ of our time. Boland here is able to carry on that strand of modernism which is Against (the American Grain) as well as the “negativity” of much language poetry. What will follow post-modernism, if there is such a thing, is not a formal shift but promises to be a return to content, but hopefully a content that differs quintessentially in that is “authentic” in allowing in the reality of rust and our all-too-human flaws.

While so much of our recent popular culture and the media have been concerned with perfecting dreams of love, it is refreshing to read her particular perceptions of relationships and the history of those relationships. “I just wanted to find a way of conveying how things change from the ordinary to the familiar, from the familiar to the known, from the known to the visionary.” What wears well and endures through thirty years of marriage as here is what endures in the Ireland through famine and violence and what will endure here after the end of post-modernism and after the recovery from the WTT tragedy. The rust that shimmers through relationships, through history, and through the history of relationships is what one hopes will follow the cultural shift brought on by the tragedy. Perhaps I am writing this too close to that occurrence and am too raw from that experience, but it does seem to me that it will signal a return to moral values and to content in poetry.

In addition to the “rust” Boland exhibits another significant quality that was also there in her earlier work. This is a concern for the work of memory, the ability to choose reverberating “grind of my neighbor’s shears” which as both sound and image not only pins that point in time but sends tracers back historically as well as horizontally through now: shearing in history and the shearing I can hear outside my rear window in this humid early fall evening. Time for her is an active being that enlivens, not just a notation on a calendar or even something stored in a diary. Time grows.

This is the type of lyric that one thinks on, ponders carefully. It is also the type of lyric that can move you emotionally, if you let it, and the type where you can join the author in her movements.


Where are the lives we lived

When we were young?

Our kisses, the heat of our skin, our bitter words?

The first waking to the first child’s cry?

Although born in Dublin, she was also formed by education in the states and at Iowa. She currently divides her energy between Ireland and her director of the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University. This is her tenth volume of verse, including In a Time of Violence and she has published poetry and essays in American and Irish literary magazines. She is also the author of a book of prose and co-edited The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms with Mark Strand.

This is a poet. She is also a feminist, but as she says, she is not a feminist writer: to be such would require writing to a formula. While her predilection is definitely formal it is a predilection for writing against the grain of forms both formally and in content.