Elevate Difference

A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet

“But if the tradition would not admit me, could I change its rules of admission?” Eavan Boland asks in her new book, A Journey with Two Maps. This volume honors the accumulated change wrought by earlier woman poets, the self-claimed permission for women to write identities outside of the feminine, and the female victory of bringing the ordinary into the canon. She also proselytizes for a transcendence of the binary: that the writer can perceive the contradictory aspects of poetry’s history and practice and reconcile them through her work, and then use these two maps to reach a poetic destination.

Boland frames critical reviews of women poets - including Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, and Gwendolyn Brooks – with an opening autobiographical essay on her perception of the creative process as influenced by her painter mother, and closes with a “Letter to a Young Woman Poet.” She presents insights of her youth, such as the realization that the sublime is not some entity storming through the heavens in order to overwhelm those who make art, but rather, their creation. Boland also describes her appreciation of Plath, not as the scribe of self-inflicted internal terrors, but as a champion of the domestic, wisely selecting Plath’s explication of “Nick and the Candlestick”: “A mother nurses her baby son by candlelight, and finds in him a beauty which, while it may not ward off the world’s ill, does redeem her share of it.”

She acknowledges that her appreciation of Brooks grew from perceiving her as an author in the tradition of urban documentarians – like Hughes, Eliot, Sandburg, and Crane – to a “critique of race and nation,” and acknowledges that this understanding was cautiously negotiated through qualified comparison with her experience of Irish colonialism, not through some claim of instant affinity. I was also introduced to Charlotte Mew, a writer who I spontaneously liked due to her wry to response to the mundane social inquiry, “Are you Charlotte Mew?”: “Unfortunately, yes.” She also wrote the lines, “It may be that what Father said is true, If things are so it does not matter why.”

A Journey with Two Maps, Boland illuminates, in prose both fluid and lucid, the reasons why, pertinent to the efforts of woman writers, and the significance of the matter.

Written by: Erika Mikkalo, April 28th 2011