All moments in time seemed to come alive at once on Wednesday evening as poet Eavan Boland read from her work at the Photonics Center. The reading by the accomplished Irish poet and director of the Creative Writing Program at Stanford University was the second installment in the Robert Lowell Memorial Lecture Series, sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Creative Writing Program.
Boland, whose work is powered by a conviction that histories of all kinds are worth telling, spoke on a breadth of topics, from human history and the lives of women to the frontiers of computer technology. She explored histories from nations and villages to kitchens and solitary dying moments. A reading from her book of prose, Object Lessons: The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time, set the tone:
“This is the way we make the past. This is the way I will make it here. Listening for hooves. Glimpsing the red hat which was never there in the first place. Giving eyesight and evidence to a woman we never knew and cannot now recover. And for all our violations, the past waits for us. The road from the train to the hospital opens out over and over again, vacant and glittering, offering shadows and hats and hoops. Again and again I visit it and reinvent it. But the woman who actually traveled it had no such license. Hers was a real journey. She did not come back. On October 10 she died in the National Maternity Hospital. She was thirty-one years of age. She was my grandmother.”
Boland read poems and essays from throughout her career, including “Pomegranate,” “That the Science of Cartography Is Limited,” and “Quarantine.” Her most recent book, Domestic Violence, explores domestic interiors for secrets of the interiors of human life, “because there is an injury that has been done by poetry to interior spaces,” she said.
The writer described “CODE,” her ode to COBOL inventor Grace Murray Hopper, as the “closest thing” to a feminist poem she’s ever written. “In my next life, I’m going to be a computer programmer,” she added. The poem closes with the lines:
I am writing at a screen as blue,
as any hill, as any lake, composing this
to show you how the world begins again:
One word at a time.
One woman to another.
Her emphasis on the lives of women in her writing makes her especially popular with female students, who quickly made a lively nest around her after the reading as she prepared to sign books. But the crowd was diverse, with student and scholar, male and female.
Lonnie Manns (GRS’06), who is earning his master’s degree in poetry, said he wouldn’t miss this chance to meet Boland, as he did the last time her heard her speak, in California. “I was too nervous to get her autograph then so it was nice to have the opportunity to see her again. This time I made sure I got her autograph. In a Time of Violence stills remains one of my favorite books of poetry.”
The Robert Lowell Memorial Lecture Series brings high-profile, accomplished poets to the University to celebrate the legacy of the historic BU class in which Robert Lowell once taught poets Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and George Starbuck. Last semester’s guest was poet Philip Levine.