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EAVAN BOLAND’S TOPOGRAPHY OF DISPLACEMENT SHEILA C. CONBOY how does a locality influence an individual writer? What is the relationship of woman to nation in Ireland? What is the place of women’s writing in Irish literary history? Clearly, Eavan Boland responds to such questions in her poetry. Even a poem like “An Old Steel Engraving” can be read as an oblique commentary on women’s “place” in a larger historical and cultural picture. In mapping history—both general and literary—as landscape, Boland laments that we have found the country of our malediction where nothing can move until we Wnd the word, nothing can stir until we say this is what happened and is happening and history is one of us who turns away while the other is turning the page.1 The past, Boland suggests, is as fixed as a steel engraving unless the poet can “find the word” which will make the “unfinished action” of the picture “widen to include us,” to include those unrepresented in the tableau, those who remain “outside history.” Indeed, “Outside History,” the title poem of the title sequence of her recent selected verse, confirms the political correction toward which Boland—writing specifically as an Irish woman— strives: “I have chosen / Out of myth into history I move to be / part of that ordeal” (OH 45). By investigating such links between poetry and place, Boland’s prose explores the same ground charted by Seamus Heaney in his 1987 talks for the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature, collected in The Place EAVAN BOLAND’S TOPOGRAPHY OF DISPLACEMENT 137 1 Eavan Boland, Outside History: Selected Poems 1980–1990 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990), p. 45; hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (OH 45). of Writing (1989). In these essays, Heaney expands his long-standing interest in place to discuss not only how the writer “becomes a voice of the spirit of the region”2 but additionally how the poet both writes place into existence and then unwrites it. And he considers not only a writer’s relationship to a speciWc locality—such as Yeats’s to his imaginatively creative and created Thoor Ballylee—but also a writer’s awareness of the place of poetry in his speciWc literary tradition and political milieu. Revisiting poets’ places, tracing lines of inXuence, demarcating the terrain of contemporary Irish poetry—in short, mapping his territory with the sureness of an experienced cartographer—Heaney uses only male poets as landmarks. As if in response, Boland moves backward in a more cautious pursuit—recovering the places of the dispossessed, reading the blank pages of history, staking out the borderlands. Indeed, Boland’s prose provides a subtle revision of the literary geography set forth by Heaney. Heaney’s second lecture in The Place of Writing investigates both how poetry is related to political debate and what “status we are to assign to such symbolic utterance within the historical circumstances where we live our lives” (PW 36). Although Heaney acknowledges that art may be “a means to redress or aVront public and historical conditions,” he narrowly conWnes his political questions to the context of the “Troubles,” both cautioning against “poetry as a self-conscious function of the national culture” and celebrating those contemporary poets who are “resourceful in changing the demands and pointing to a new agenda for Irish poetry” (PW 39).3 He appears as the “objective” narrator, the contemporary literary historian, the map-maker. Boland’s prose, however, exposes a diVerent “vexed question” in Irish political debate, a question which falls outside Heaney’s circumscribed territory of interest: the place of women in Irish culture. In two essays in particular, A Kind of Scar: The Woman Poet in a National Tradition—Wrst EAVAN BOLAND’S TOPOGRAPHY OF DISPLACEMENT 138 2 Seamus Heaney, The Place of Writing (Athens, GA: The Scholars Press, 1989), p. 20; hereafter cited parenthetically, thus: (PW 20). 3 Heaney appears to have recognized the social responsibilities of the poet: “The topic of this debate typically concerns the political rights and cultural loyalties of diVerent social or racial groups resulting from separate heritages, aVronts and identities; and even if individual poets have been spared direct pressure to address...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 137-146
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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