Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Eavan Boland – The Black Lace Fan

Recapturing the Past, a Black Lace Fan

Eavan Boland was born in 1944 in Dublin, the youngest of five children. Her father was an Irish diplomat and her mother, a painter. Boland was educated in Dublin, London and New York, eventually reading English at Trinity College Dublin.
Her themes are primarily myth, legend, love and motherhood, and she writes from the viewpoint of a woman poet in a male-dominated environment, whose complexities are compound by the fact she is also Irish.
Ireland was, after all, England's first colony, as explained by Jan Montefiore in Feminism and Poetry, "In 1990 Eavan Boland published Outside History, an autobiographical essay which meditates on the difficulty for an Irishwoman of becoming a poet in a national poetic tradition created and shaped by men, partly because she lacks examples of Irish foremothers, but more because the symbolic languages available to her are unacceptably full of stereotyped images of women." Montefiore explains that Boland is seeking a symbolic language but this reacts against the reality of her national mythology.
The Establishing of Urban Experience
Like other Irish writers, Boland strives to combine anecdote and history by attempting to establish the urban part of the Irish experience. Her poem, The Black Lace Fan My Mother Gave Me demonstrates this sensitive aspect of her project. A black lace fan becomes a way of recapturing a past that is an empty cafe terrace, with its figures, usually women, who have been erased and forgotten. The fan is crumpled and faded. It was the first gift given to her mother by her father.
Boland holds the fan and feels its smoothness as it evokes a variety of emotions. She imagines her mother, looking down the Boulevard des Capucines for her father, then ordering more coffee. Boland's description of the fan is minutely detailed, evoking all the senses: "These are wild roses, appliqued on silk by hand / darkly picked, stitched boldly, quickly." Boland recreates the entire event, the situation, the people and the drama. She imagines the original newness and scratchiness of the fan. For Boland, this is the central purpose in the writing of poetry, not only to express an experience, but to experience it further.
The triumphant way in which she achieves this re-experiencing is shown in the final image of the poem, where a blackbird performs her stunning finale. "...Suddenly she puts out her wing - / the whole, full, flirtatious span of it." This spreading of the female blackbird's wing, with its quick movement, brings nature into the poem and inserts meaning into the past and into the lost moment as symbolised by the fan.
Boland, Eavan. The Journey. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1987.
Boland, Eavan. Outside History. London: Carcanet, 1990.
Montefiore, Jan. "Long Memoried Women," Feminism and Poetry. London" Pandora, 1994.

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