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Poet Eavan Boland visits Ashland

Chautauqua Poets & Writers is hosting poet Eavan Boland on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Mountain Avenue Theater. For more than six years, the organization has been bringing terrific writers to the Rogue Valley to give public readings and work with local teachers and students.

Boland was described by "Poetry Review" magazine as one of the finest and boldest poets of the last half century. I agree. While I haven't read a lot of her work, the poems I have seen are rich and thought-provoking, weaving threads of history and literature with the simple experiences of everyday life.

I recently read Boland's ninth book, "Against Love Poetry," a collection written in opposition to poems that idealize love and marriage. These poems are not anti-love or anti-marriage, but they examine without sentimentality what happens long after the honeymoon. Boland, a mother of two, has been married for 30 years and her poems are lyrical and detailed but also no-nonsense. She offers sharp insights on the day-to-day rhythms, conflicts and rewards of a marriage.

The title poem, "Against Love Poetry" is a prose poem. It begins:

We were married in summer, thirty years ago. I have loved you deeply from that moment to this. I have loved other things as well.

Among them the idea of women's freedom. Why do I put these words side by side? Because I am a woman.

Because marriage is not freedom. Therefore, every word here is written against love poetry.

This poem and many others give an honest account of what happens as love ages, a reminder that while it is not all hearts and flowers, there is great beauty in a mature relationship.

"Quarantine" is one of my favorite poems in the collection. Inspired by a story about an Irish couple who froze to death in 1847 while fleeing famine, it is heartbreaking and lovely. The poem ends with the discovery of the couple's dead bodies:

But her feet were held against his breastbone.

The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

I read this poem, sighed, and gave it to my husband of 15 years. I stared hard at him while he read. It is a testament to his goodness that he barely hesitated in his offer to put my icy feet on his chest if we were dying in the snow.

Boland has published many other collections of poems, prose and anthologies, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lannan Foundation Award in Poetry. She is a professor of English at Stanford University where she directs the creative writing program.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1944, Boland has lived in Ireland, England and throughout the U.S. I mention this both as a biographical detail and to point out that she's Irish, which means that an audience to her reading will hear her passionate poems in that gorgeous lilting accent that makes everything sound like music.

In addition to the public reading, she will be interviewed on Thursday, Oct. 20, on JPR's Jefferson Exchange radio show, and will conduct writing workshops for the Oregon Writing Project and for students from throughout the Rogue Valley.

Tickets to the Oct. 20 reading may be purchased at Bloomsbury Books, The Bookwagon and Nimbus. Prices are: $25 for the patron level, $15 general, and $12 for students.

For more information or to purchase tickets online, call 541-482-3632 or visit www.ChautauquaWriters.org.

Angela Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Her e-mail is decker4@gmail.com.