Wednesday, October 3rd 2012
The cool Berkeley air didn’t do much to aid the sickness of walking too much and getting really hot, but Eavan Boland’s wonderful prose and heart nuzzling poetry did. The night’s reading took place on the campus of UC Berkeley as part of the Holloway series and began with a reading by Brown graduate Mary Wilson, who read from her longer poem “Not Only,” a piece concerning unconventional and honest love; one that isn’t limited by the confines of death. She followed with a series entitled “When We Were Men,” a succession of smaller works that tell the stories of multiple men, all of whom find themselves becoming who they are in strange and familiar ways. But it was Boland’s soft, Irish croon and tantalizing words that cooled me to a slump and made me forget even the seat below me.
Boland began by telling us that “there is, in Ireland…a big difference between the past and history. History in Ireland is, in so many ways, quite a glamorous narrative of the triumph of the individual, but the past is a much more ambiguous place. It’s a place of questions: where voices are lost, and identities are hidden.” History is beautiful, but it doesn’t define us like our past does, where sorrows and failures might reside. Her poem “The Quarantine” was a freezing tale of a couple, found dead, that serves as a good example of lost voices.
She continued to enlighten with small, descriptive settings, through her tiny, drizzling cloud of a voice, about this idea of those who do not have a country. Like her grandparents, who worked on the outskirts of history, behind the scenes, and had no ties to the land they scraped their knuckles upon… except for the ink on their birth certificates. Boland asks how her grandmother fit; “not whether she had included the nation in her short life, but whether the nation had included her.” The question doesn’t die there. Is it those who now lived in America? These immigrants who would write home, clinging to their roots and branching out to new wonders in a new nation; did they lose their country? Listen to her read “The Lost Art of Letter Writing,” in which she sifts through these people, and indicates how letter writing has, indeed, been lost to history.
Her last poem, “A Woman Without a Country,” is an exquisite story; a poem that ripples under your skin like phantoms well beyond the last echo of the last word that she lets trickle. Go listen, and fall a little in love with Eavan Boland.
Fermin Gonzales is a Litseen intern from the SFSU Creative Writing program. He enjoys pretending he migrated to San Francisco to escape the sinister and martial life he lived in Hollister, though the real reason was that he needed an education. He recently began a blog to focus on his other lifelong passion: music. And, not comfortable with simply writing about the music, he has begun posting videos of his own original work on youtube.