Published in 2001 and therefore stuck in my To Read pile for over a decade. Shame on me: it’s a fate the poems didn’t deserve. Against Love Poetry
is a mere slip of a collection, divided into two sections, “Marriage” and “Code.” The first section is a single, eleven poem sequence. The second section holds sixteen individual poems thematically linked not just to each other but to “Marriage” as well.
So, the title. Ms. Boland is against the feverish strand of romantic poetry that is all roman candle passion, that ignores the deep measure of love that history takes on a relationship. Similarly, she rejects the notion that some lives, as in most lives, are not fit subjects for poetry, lacking the integrity, reality, life that we seem to deny to mainstream lives—too conventional, too risk free, too boring. The code word for that is variations ofsuburban. But let’s stick to love and marriage.
The first poem sets the tone: “Hester Bateman made a marriage spoon / And then subjected it to violence. / Chased, beat it. Scarred it and marked it. / All in the spirit of our darkest century.” Bateman is an 18th century English silversmith who made the spoon for an Irish couple. Later it states: “Art and marriage: now a made match.” The poem concludes: “History frowns on them: yet in its gaze / They join their injured hands and make their vows.”This sets up the second poem, the collection’s title poem, which concludes, “It is to mark the contradictions of a daily love that I have written this. Against love poetry.”
What follows is a mix of portraits that shine under the frowning face of history—personal, national and cultural—that nonetheless provides testimony to love and love’s commitment. Here is one randomly chosen from the book’s second section called “Irish Poetry”:
We always knew there was no Orpheus in Ireland,
No music stored at the doors of hell.
No god to make it.
No wild beasts to weep and lie down to it.
But I remember an evening when the sky
was underworld-dark at four,
when ice had seized every part of the city
and we sat talking—
the air making a wreath for our cups of tea.
And you began to speak of our own gods.
Our heartbroken pantheon.
No Attic light for them and no Herodotus.
But thin rain and dogfish and the stopgap
of the sharp cliffs
they spent their winters on.
And the pitch-black Atlantic night:
how the sound
of a bird’s wing in a lost language sounded.
You made the noise for me.
Made it again.
Until I could see the flight of it: suddenly
the silvery lithe rivers of the southwest
lay down in silence
and the savage acres no one could predict
were all at ease, soothed and quiet and
listening to you, as I was. As if to music, as if to peace.
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