Granted, Sharon Olds and Eavan Boland have been two of my favorite poets since college. This is nothing new, in other words. I'm struck (endlessly, it seems), nonetheless, between the unexpected closeness of the two poems we read and discussed in juxtaposition this past week in Women's Lit (in its earliest days)--a kind of conversation they seem to be having with one another--American and Irish, newborn in its 'First Hour' and wife of thirty years 'Against Love Poetry'.
Essentially, Olds and Boland travel away from and back to themselves in these poems. At the beginning of 'First Hour', the speaker asserts that she 'was most [her]self', that she 'had shrugged / [her] mother slowly off', as if to say that independence and selfhood emerge only (or most completely) in solitude, that by ceasing to be part of another and initiating an existence of oneness, she experiences that most sacred of entities: pure, unadulterated being. Should we then deduce that there is a kind of loss (ironically) in partnering, in uniting with another human being, be it mother or partner or friend?
Boland echoes this near contradiction from Olds. She names marriage in the first line of her poem--a twoness or duality, a union of two. Yet as soon as the speaker says, 'I have loved you' she quickly follows with, 'I have loved other things as well'. She has loved 'the idea of women's freedom' but quickly follows with, 'marriage is not / freedom'. Surely the 'contradictions of / a daily love' lie here in the math.
I can't help but think of an 'Indigo Girls' song I used to listen to in high school: 'The Power of Two'. It says, 'adding up a total of a love that's true / multiply life by the power of two'--with this sense we have of adding, gaining through partnership. But Olds and Boland (bless them) aren't so quick to the zero-sum game; they acknowledge that paradox: that partnering is both gain and loss at once.
I've watched my friends, my brother and sister, and myself now in and out of love (and other drugs) for these years into our late twenties and early thirties, and I can't help but breathe a little bit more easily, a little bit more deeply, when Olds and Boland name what goes so often unnamed: that we are both more of ourselves and somehow less of ourselves as we negotiate our places in the world relative to the partners with whom we share much of our time and space, intimacies and idiosyncrasies. We are left, always it seems to me, with the contradiction. It is that king weeping over his 'old servant' in Boland's poem, or the fox with long ears in Le Petit Prince saying, 'You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed' (provided the definition for tame as 'to establish ties').