A collection of poems about marriage by one of our most celebrated poets.
These powerful poems are written against the perfections and idealizations of traditional love poetry. The man and woman in these poems are husband and wife, custodians of ordinary, aging human love. They are not figures in a love poem. Time is their essential witness, and not their destroyer. A New York Times Notable Book and a Newsday Favorite Book of 2001.
“ADMIRABLY TOUGH-MINDED… eloquently expressed…. [Boland] is against thoughtless submission but very much for sacrifices in partnership that result in greater mutual understanding.”
“Boland’s loyalty to the plain words that call forth a whole past keeps the pear fires burning decades after they were lit.”
“Boland returns to the enduring battle between love and control many times in the first half of this collection. ”We are married thirty years, / woman and man,” she writes to her husband in ”The Pinhole Camera,” ”Long enough / to know about power and nature. / Long enough / to know which is which.” Elsewhere she tells the story of a couple found dead during the potato famine and finds in their final position — her feet held close to his chest for warmth — an indicator of ”How they lived. / And what there is between a man and a woman. / And in which darkness it can best be proved.”
While all of this is admirably tough-minded, not to mention eloquently expressed, it’s in large part what we’ve come to expect from Boland; she is against thoughtless submission but very much for sacrifices in partnership that result in greater mutual understanding. The moments that stand out in ”Against Love Poetry” are those in which Boland adds another dimension to her literary persona, showing herself to be a poet not only of feminism and Ireland, but one interested in making sense of the way the abstractions of time and space play themselves out in human relations.
But it is a lovely, melancholy poem called ”The Burdens of a History,” which hovers skillfully between mystery and message, that is possibly the book’s strongest. In it, Boland makes the past palpable and alluring, if also somewhat ominous. ”I have a reason for remembering / the unseasonable heat of that evening. / A skin of wet air on the apples. / The plane tree leaves dry as lavender. / We said we would not talk about the past: / About what had happened. (Which is history.) / About what could happen. (Which is fear.)” The poem is Boland’s version of what a map should look like, perhaps — a record not only of where we’ve been and will go, but how it feels to be there.”