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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Identity Politics

Seven-page piece in the new Poetry Ireland Review by Rita Kelly, ‘Eavan Boland: A Voice of Courage in Our Time’. It seems to be a riposte to a review by Maria Johnston that appeared PIR a few issues back. At issue, among other things, is Boland’s addiction to dictating the terms, in her prose, on which her poetry is read. Kelly quotes a 1997 essay from American Poet beginning, in classic Boland style: ‘I was in a flat in Dublin for a few years…’, going on to describe the blinding revelation that she wrote a few poems there. That would be, let me see, In Dublin. In the 1960s. Before she moved to the suburbs. The centrality of the male poet. Had yet to be. Questioned. It’s a familiar tale, and I don’t know why Kelly is repeating it. There really is nothing more to say about it. A letter from Matthew Arnold to his mother is quoted, with mutton chops reassuring the old lady that like Alf Tennyson and Bob Browning he too will have his time in the sun. ‘It is difficult to imagine an Ireland, especially then, rather than even now, when Boland could write such a letter to her mother or to anyone else.’ Maybe we should interpret Boland’s one-note critical prose as a self-addressed letter in this vein. This is a debate about self-esteem rather than poetry. Boost your self-esteem all you want if you think it’s going to improve your poetry, but I can only review your art, not your self-image. Maria Johnston had quoted a stray remark by Dan Chiasson on an anthology of German poetry Boland had edited (though she speaks no German), calling EB someone ‘who had suffered her share of atrocious events in her own country’. This is a ridiculous statement, but it’s hard to blame Chiasson overly. This is what happens when art is offered as a testimonial to good character. Eavan Boland’s poetry has spent decades sheltering under a good cause (feminism) in defence of the much more important right of Irish art to remain forever defined by and in hock to identity politics, first and last, and enough, I say, please let us and the world at large, which includes Ireland, get over this now, and never, ever have these pointless debates again!

1 comment:

Ms Baroque said...

Oh my God, the picture. Would it be so wrong to say it made me laugh? Like a drain?