BY CIEL ZHANG AND SAMIRA SHAHBANDY
On the evening of Feb. 10, Irish woman writer as well as the Director of Creative Writing program at Stanford University, Eavan Boland, visited Agnes Scott for a public reading of her works. Her hour-long poetry reading and Q&A has been the most well-attended literary event this academic year so far.
This was Boland’s second visit to Agnes Scott, while her first time was before the turn of the century. At the event, distinguished attendees such as Dr. Linda Hubert, who organized Boland’s 1999 reading, and Mr. Shane Stephens, the Consulate General of Ireland in Atlanta, were present. Many recent alumnae of Agnes Scott College flew in from all over the nation, including Illinois, Mississippi, Florida, and California. A few of them have responded to Boland’s work in their major academic projects.
The event was opened by Dr. Christine Cozzens, from whom the majority of the students present that night learned about Boland and her work. Following her acknowledgements, Stephens spoke on the Irish behalf of the event and emphasized Boland’s critical contribution to Irish national literature of today. When Stephens concluded, Profile correspondent Ciel Zhang, stepped up to have the honor of introducing Boland, mentioning both how she was an inspiration and how much of a voice she has been for Irish women in literature.
During the reading, Boland connected her poetry-reading with insightful anecdotes of literary and Irish values. She distinguished poet of the past “from poet of the history” and humbly asserted herself as the former while Patrick Kavanagh as the latter, accompanied by her poignant poem “Quarantine.” She then moved on to describe the way American poetry influenced her – especially from the Surrealist Sylvia Plath – and discussed how a woman poet should never be reduced to her biography. Reflecting this theme, she read “To Poets Who Died Young” and “An Elegy for My Mother, in Which She Scarcely Appears.” Other poems read that night include “Pomegranate,” “Irish Poetry,” and “The Long Evenings of Leavetaking.”
Boland’s ingenious presentation of her life and work was received by a room full of an audience with appreciation as well as awe, resulting in a slightly hesitant atmosphere during the Q&A session.
During the book signing that followed the event, all her books prepared by the Agnes Scott bookstore were sold out almost immediately, including at least five different collections and two books of nonfiction. The crowd lingered for over an hour in the Dalton Atrium, jointly sustained by students, faculty members, recent alumnae, and friends of the Agnes Scott community. The line was so long, it stretched from the Dalton Atrium to the Winter Theatre.
The next morning, Boland visited Dr. Cozzens’s Literature of Ireland class and offered an hour of her time to answer students’ inquiries. Topics of the questions ranged from the private making of a poet to the public fiction-making of history, including a fascinating discourse on the poetic career in relations to activism. Students of the class came prepared with thoughtful questions and thoroughly exploited their time with the poet, whom has been the subject of their class for the past three weeks.
Boland left Agnes Scott that afternoon, and commented so on her visit: “It was wonderful to be in a place where the sense of literature–both reading and participating in it–is so much part of the students’ experience.”
As wonderful as Boland’s visit was for her, it was equally, if not more, wonderful for students to witness such a poetic, empowering woman that brought the female voice to Irish literature and beyond.