OBJECT LESSONS by Eavan  Boland


The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time
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 An ultimately lackluster testimony to the truism that art and life can't be separated. One of Ireland's major poets, Boland (In a Time of Violence, 1994, not reviewed) uses personal experience to illustrate a straightforward argument on the poetic life. In the male poetry of the past, she states, the feminine was always muse, nymph, and symbol; by being elevated, woman was reduced to a silent object, with no individual personality or voice. By writing poetry, she argues, women reclaim their own subjectivity and turn the poetic tradition of Britain and Ireland on its head. Female poets then assume the responsibility of reexamining and reworking the traditional relationship between subject and object. To highlight this theme, Boland traces her own growing unease with the seeming discord between her life as a suburban housewife and the one about which she, as a self-identifying political Irish poet, was supposed to write. Unfortunately, the technique used does not do justice to the basic premise. Despite a keen eye for image, Boland's rhetorical style is extremely heavy-handed. She sets out to unwind her argument and story as she would a poem, returning to the same images more than once, until, she states, the argument ``loses its reasonable edge and hopefully becomes a sort of cadence.'' Her narrative is repetitious without revealing a new idea or nuance each time, and the majority of her images, although sometimes symbolically potent on their own, are raised and then quickly dropped. The few images she does return to--such as the table where she spent hours as a young woman trying to become a writer or the suburbs where she later lives--don't have the same power as the ones she never fully explores. As a short essay on poetic theory this might have been effective; as a full-length memoir it fails to move.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1995
ISBN: 0-393-03716-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995