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Eavan Boland

The Trailblazing Poet
Eavan Boland
Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland was born in Dublin in 1944 and was the daughter of Frederick Boland a diplomat and Frances Kelly a painter. She lived in Leeson Park Dublin until the age of five when her father was appointed the first Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom and the family relocated to London. Young Eavan found life in London lonely although it did provide inspiration for her poem “An Irish Childhood in England, 1951”. The family later moved to New York but Eavan found it hard to settle there and returned to Ireland aged 14 to attend school at Holy Child Killiney. Being an asthmatic Eavan did not shine on the sports field but instead found a great love for Latin and English. Her Latin Teacher Mrs Cox “changed her life” and later on references to mythology often weaved their way into her poetry as in the poems “The Pomegranate” and “The Latin Lesson”.   

Eavan published her first collection of poems entitled “23 Poems” in 1962 during her first year in Trinity College Dublin and graduated from there in 1966 with a BA with First Class Honours in English Literature and Language. She then began work as a junior lecturer at Trinity and later moved in the area of literary journalism both for The Irish Times and RTÉ.  

Eavan married the novelist, Kevin Casey in 1969 and lived in Dundrum with their two daughters, Sarah and Eavan. This time in her life helped inspire her poetry which was centred on an appreciation of the ordinary aspects of everyday suburban life as shown in her first book of poetry “New Territory published in 1967 and also in her much loved poem “Night Feed in 1982.

Eavan made women's experiences a central theme in her work. She once remarked “I wanted to put the life I lived into the poem I wrote. And the life I lived was a woman's life”. She felt that in the past women were often portrayed in a decorative and passive sense without much depth and set out to alter this depiction. “In Her Own Image” published in 1980 Eavan did much to subvert this outdated portrayal of women and brought Eavan international acclaim. 

Another theme explored by Eavan was Irish mythology as found in her poem “Song” from her 1975 collection “The War Horse”. While a “Time of Violence” published in 1994 which was centred on history and legends won the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry and was also shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize. “Against Love Poetry” published in 2001 was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year while her poem “Quarantine” about the Irish Famine in 1847 was one of the 10 poems shortlisted for RTÉ's selection of Ireland's favourite poems of the last century in 2018. “A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet” published in 2012 won the Pen Award for creative nonfiction.

In 2014, a collection of Eavan's most famous poems together with her own photographs of Dublin were published in “A Poet's Dublin” (Carcanet Press)” on the occasion of her 70th birthday and she received a lifetime achievement award at the Irish Book Awards in 2017.

During her extensive career Eavan was the author of 11 poetry collections, an award-winning essay collection, prose writings and an anthology of German women poets. She taught in Trinity College Dublin, University College, Dublin, and Bowdoin College and was also member of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. In 1996 she became a Professor of English and a Director of the creative writing programme at Standford University, California and divided her time between Palo Alto and her home in Dublin. She returned home to Dublin during the coronavirus pandemic but continued to teach her students remotely.

A documentary entitled “Eavan Boland: Is it Still the Same?” was broadcast on RTE in 2018. In that same year Eavan was elected to the Royal Irish Academy who together with the Government of Ireland commissioned her to write the poem “Our future will become the past of other women” which was to be read at the UN and in Ireland to celebrate 100 years of Irish women gaining the right to vote in 1918.

Eavan's work covered many themes such as family, history, mythology, violence, politics and what it means to be a women. Indeed it could be summed up best in her own words as “Poetry begins where language starts: in the shadows and accidents of one person's life”.

Eavan Boland died suddenly following a stroke on 27 April 2020, aged 75. Her legacy will live on in such an inspirational and fascinating anthology of work. 

By Sinéad Farrell 



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