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What I’m Reading: Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and The Poet in Our Time by Eavan Boland

There comes a point in a manuscript when you like what you’ve written, but there’s still work ahead, and you’re -- okay, let’s drop this second person -- I am a little bored with straightening chronology, filling in historical holes, checking facts and such. There’s a way to go before the work is ready for the more delicious expanding of some images, contracting others, and playing with echoes, never mind being seen by others’ eyes, so besides being tired, I’m a bit lonely. Luckily for me, I found a book that’s keeping me good company through this phase and nudging me to go back to my work for another look or two or ten.

Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and The Poet in Our Time by Eavan Boland was published about fifteen years ago, and since I read and liked some of her poetry, I wondered how I missed this. Perhaps it was just waiting for the right moment. Eavan Boland discusses how she grew up in a time and place, Ireland, studying at Trinity College (Yeats had walked on the grass) in the early 1960s, when poets were honored, while women were not, and how she feels that honoring has switched places over the decades. She writes of finding her poetic voice by shouting across the gap.

Eavan Boland discusses reading poets who came before to learn forms, lineation, how stanzas are put together, and their music, but how she missed seeing reflections of her life as a young woman learning the craft. Or raising children in the suburbs of Dublin. The book is loosely structured around the turnings and returnings of poetry, and ordinary places get lingered over: we often come back to a table covered with oilcloth, the view of dark rain on stone, where she wrote and destroyed some of her first poems. She finds her aesthetic not in poetry as much as in paintings, particularly Jean Baptiste Chardin’s depictions of “a crusty loaf, the woman fixed between menial tasks and human dreams… he had taken truth and revealed its beauty.” She discusses ways personal memories, imaginings of her grandmothers, and political contexts become history.

I love this, so am thrilled that Eavan Boland, now a professor at Stanford, where she divides her time between Dublin, just published another blend of memoir and criticism called Being a Woman Poet: A Journey of Two Maps. And I’m reading her poems. Here’s a glimpse at how some of this theory plays out from her volume Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990 (Norton).

Here are the last lines of “Domestic Interior:”

Home is sleeping child
an open mind

and our effects
shrugged and settled
in the sort of light
jugs and kettles
grow important by.

For the Poetry Friday roundup, please visit Amy at The Poem Farm.


Books make great companions. And you have friends only a few clicks away.
Aw, thank you, Angela, for reminding me of friends everywhere. I was thinking of the particular kind of loneliness, when you're deep in a book, absorbed in a character (or more) who you can't wait for others to meet. But have to wait. Because you haven't yet put that character in her best clothes.
Love your towering TBR list. And when it meets mine!

Not mean at all to want company in the struggle. She sometimes gives us the place and mood where she wrote a poem, but one of my favorite scenes is when she feels a poem coming, but for various reasons it doesn't get written. I thought it was wonderful to record the history of an unwritten poem.
I am glad you have a soulful bookfriend to keep you company during the tedious days. And grateful that you shared her with us too... A.
Thanks for your ever-kind words, Amy.


Thank you for this post, Jeannine! I ordered used copies to add to my teetering tower as well. Best wishes with your work-in-progress.
Thanks, Robyn! I like the cover of the older copy better than the new paperback and hope you do, too.
I know that necessary loneliness. How good to read something of what you both have to say about it. Those lines read like a painting.
I did find it intriguing when Eavan Boland came around to find inspiration and makes a conversation with paintings. In her new book, she find more company in poetry that she didn't know in the 1960s and 70s.

Oh that necessary loneliness. Glad it doesn't have to pervade the whole day.

Here's to real company when luck is good.