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This article is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

Outside Histrionics Anne Stevenson

SINCE I AM ACCUSED of 'a subtle sneering tone that pervades [my] whole piece' on Eavan Boland's 'Outside History', I should first reiterate my expressed regard for Eavan Boland, for 'poems which seem to me as fine as any written in the past decade in the English language'. 'She and woman poets like her,' I wrote, 'have brought to poetry a welcome compassion and an appeal to moral consciousness… Eavan Boland is an exemplary poet of her time.' 'Such reservations as I express', I went on, 'relate to Eavan Boland's framework of ideas, to her dissociation of sensibility" if you like, and to the restrictions she places upon herself by selfconsciously choosing a national/sexual role as a writer.' That is not what I call 'berating'. It is for stumbling into charged areas of nationalism and sexism that I have myself been berated and found guilty, without extenuating circumstance, of the grave political offence of obscurantism.

My suggestion that 'Eavan Boland as an Irishwoman and I as an American are separated by very different historical experiences' triggered some shrill rhetoric on the tragedy of the 'Amerindians'. The point, not a new one, has often and rightly been made by hostile critics. Fanny Trollope, for example, appalled by the democratic ways and lack of deference in white America, was quick to point to the irony of the new democracy's treatment of black people and Indians. For another continent, Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore, told the terrible story of ...


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