Community, Culture, Isolation,Oral and Written Language–And the poetry these forces shape. Eavan Boland on a “transnational poetics”

In an article originally published in American Poet, the biannual journal published by the Academy of American Poets for its members, Eavan Boland talked about a “transnational poetics.” I was particularly fascinated by her comparison and contrast of American and Irish culture and the poetic communities each country fostered–and how this shaped the poetry that came out of these countries. Here is a brief excerpt. I urge you to read the entire interview at

Where Poetry Begins: Eavan Boland in Conversation
by Eavan Boland
Interviewed by Elizabeth Schmidt

American poetry, on the other hand, seems to me very tied in with the rise of literacy. As soon as it existed it was read. Of course there are other poetries–I’m thinking of the Harlem Renaissance in particular–where I think the background is more similar to the Irish one, and more oral.

But the American poet who traces a descent from Whitman or Dickinson–I know this is a simplified diagram–doesn’t have the intense oral, communal past to contend with. They have the exciting sense of a new language, not an old or mortgaged one.

So I think, in comments made by Irish and American poets, you have this contrast where the American poet can feel isolated, and the Irish poet oppressed by the communal shadows that fall across the poem.

It cuts both ways. Irish poetry draws strength from the bardic past. American poetry seems to me to have benefited, obliquely and maybe painfully, from that felt isolation of the American poet, because it has resulted in that tradition of experiment I admire so much. Irish poetry couldn’t have produced a Wallace Stevens. On the other hand, those communal tensions worked well to goad William Yeats into poetry, and kept goading him to the very end of his life.

To subscribe to American Poet, become a member online.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *