Saturday 21 April 2018

Book worm: Who says poetry does not pay?

Eavan Boland
Eavan Boland

John Boland

Twenty thousand Canadian dollars for a maximum of 40 lines of verse works out at €350 a line or €14,000 for the entire poem, which is pretty good money by anyone's standards, and that's what's on offer for the 2015 Montreal International Poetry Prize.

The sole judge is Irish poet Eavan Boland, the poems must be submitted online (to www.montrealprize.com) and the closing date is May 15 next. Oh, and if your poem is a mere 20 lines long, that will make you €700 a line if you're fortunate enough to win. Who says that poetry doesn't pay?

And entrants will hope that Ms Boland proves more receptive to their verse than poet David Wheatley was to her own latest collection in last weekend's Guardian. Reviewing A Woman Without a Country (Carcanet), he said that in its view of Irish female victimhood "it resembles all other Boland books", where "the juggernaut of the nation - callously, insensitively male - annihilates the rich particularity of female experience".

Boland's poems, he argued, are based on an outmoded 19th century view of nationalism and "gravitate with grim inevitability to a hobbled, abstract mourning". And he also takes issue with her stance as "poetic mater dolorosa", which co-exists with an "unfailing belief in her mandate to speak for, or over the heads of, others, including other women".

Could it be, he wonders, that Boland "prefers to relate to an antiquarian 'Romantic Ireland', the better to preserve her role as our deliverer from it?" Oh, and he also doesn't like her "addiction" to the full stop rather than the comma, which he feels "quickly grates".

So not a fan then, and neither am I of verse that frequently seems hectoring or lecturing or miserabilist, or frequently all three, and that seldom sings as true poetry should.

Yet the judges of the RTÉ Poem for the Nation award clearly feel otherwise and have included a poem she wrote about the famine in their shortlist. As for the Montreal prize, entrants will wish her to adopt a less stern approach to their offerings than she brings to her own unsmiling verse.

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