April 28, 2020KR OnlineSpecial Collections

In Memoriam: Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland took my poetry more seriously than I did. That’s how I felt when I was her student, and she taught me to demand more of myself as a poet. In her workshop, when the moment came for her to explain where she thought that a poem had gone wrong, it was tense. Her point as I understood it was not to be intentionally intimidating, but rather to show that the poem at hand was important and therefore any problems in it were also. It didn’t feel like I had simply written a bad final couplet or chosen the wrong title, but rather that I had failed the noble station of poetry. This sounds hyperbolic, but that was her point. I wasn’t “just” writing poems. I was a poet. And my marching orders were clear, as she would often say, “Don’t screw it up.”

Eavan also loved to drop extreme opinions casually in class, and in the hours after learning of her death, the first things that I texted back and forth with other former Stegner Fellows were the wildest Eavan quotes we could remember, like when she declared that metaphor is dead in poetry, or that she had the ability to tell if a poem was well-written or not just by looking at the shape of it from across the room without even needing to read the words, or that roasted red peppers are the vilest of foods.

The last time I ever saw Eavan I ran into her in Margaret Jacks Hall at Stanford. My wife had just given birth to our daughter Lily, our first child. I excitedly told Eavan the news. She scrutinized my face, as if noticing what I actually looked like for the first time, particularly my ginger hair and beard. She asked “Does your daughter have red hair?” I said yes. She replied with a curt “Good,” smiled, turned about face and walked off satisfied that there was another red headed Irish woman in the world.

Read “Letters to the Dead” from the Spring 2007 issue of the Kenyon Review.