Quote of the Day
...where the usual publisher's list might be like the contents of a bookshop, Carcanet's was like the contents of a private library. More than that, over the years, the Carcanet list has grown without any dilution of seriousness, so that looking at it now is like being invited to read the contents of a poet's library.
Subscribe to our mailing list
Review of New Collected Poems - Elaine Feinstein, Poetry Review Volume 96:3 Autumn 2006
Elaine Feinstein, Poetry Review Volume 96:3 Autumn 2006Previous review of 'New Collected Poems'... Next review of 'New Collected Poems'... To the 'New Collected Poems' page...
Swept, Emptied, Kept
Boland is one of the finest and boldest poets of the last half-century. No-one has articulated with more poise the dilemmas of being a woman poet in Ireland. An early feminist, she wrote with her young children around her, finding poetry in early morning bottle-feeds and 'woman’s secret history' before such concerns were fashionable. She has other powerful themes: emigration, exile, the violence of Irish history, death in famine. In her latest books she explores the stoicism of daily life, and the intensities of a long marriage.
Looking back through New Collected Poems, it becomes clear that the originality lies in her control of language and tone rather than her own experience. She is one of the few poets able to brush against the vocabulary of late Plath and not lose her own voice. That is because she can make use of Plath's innate surrealism, and extends her metaphors with some wit, for instance in 'Anorexic':
Flesh is heretic.
My body is a witch.
I am burning it.
She understands how women - 'swept, emptied, kept' - come to accept the compromises of routine. But her vision of female choices goes deeper. She rages against the Muse of mirrors - 'You slut. You fat trout' - and all the female tools used to escape the kitchen and the stink of nappies:
Eye-shadow, swivel brushes, blushers
Hot pinks, rouge pots, sticks
Ice for the pores, a mud mask
All the latest tricks.
Unlike Akmatova, say, who trusts her own Muse as unchanging, Boland knows there are many Muses, some of them women writers from other ages. 'The Journey' is one of her most passionate poems. Taking off from that section of the Aeneid which describes the crying unborn babies, Boland is led by Sappho into an Underworld of women from earlier centuries when typhus, cholera, croup and diphtheria ravaged the alleys of old Europe. These are the pains of human experience before antibiotics. Returning to her own life, she reflects:
If she will not bless the ordinary,
if she will not sanctify the common,
then here I am and here I stay and then am I
the most miserable of women.
In fact it is ordinary detail that gives life to her poetry: a drawer eased by candle grease, or car keys 'getting warmer in one hand'. She describes what she sees wonderfully - air is 'tea-coloured in the garden' - and what she hears: 'plum coloured water / in the sloppy quiet'. In her most recent book, she rests her vision of love in daily life:
I would have said
we learned by heart
the coded marriage makes of passion.
We thank the Arts Council England for their support and assistance in this interactive Project.
This website ©2000-2013 Carcanet Press Ltd