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This article is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

The Other Eavan Boland Jee Leong Koh
This short piece will not do for Eavan Boland what Randall Jarrell did for Robert Frost or what Boland herself did for Sylvia Plath in her essay collection A Journey with Two Maps. It will not rescue a different Eavan Boland overlooked or ignored by critics. Its ambition is laughably much smaller. As I re-read her New Collected Poems in order to write this tribute, I was struck by the consistencies in the long and well-known course of this poet’s development. What were they? The high-mindedness, for one. For another, the tolerance of ambiguity. For a third, the feeling for others’ suffering. These were the qualities that first drew me to her poetry, and that still engage me.

And so I thought I would write about the great help Eavan Boland gives me, a gay Singapore poet, in resisting and re-­envisioning a patriarchal and colonial literary heritage. Now that would be a suitably weighty subject for a tribute. But as Boland has taught me to ask, what gives me my sense of what is suitable and what not? Whose dictates and decorum am I obeying? So, flipping back and forth in the book, I began to entertain a somewhat impertinent question: does Eavan Boland have a sense of humour?

Of course I mean in the poetry, having met the person only for a minute in the dazed atmosphere of a poetry reading. And I am happy to report after a conscientious search that in the tome of New Collected Poems there is at least one poem that induces a case of the funnies. For that reason, if ...


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