Kay Boyle’s birthday is February 19th. She was born in 1902 and died in 1992. Boyle was a well-known literary figure in her day. She published 19 novels, 11 short story collections, 8 books of nonfiction, just as many poetry collections, and 3 kids books. She also had three husbands and six children. In the 1940s Boyle spoke out against fascism, then found herself under investigation during the McCarthy era and was later deeply involved in protesting the Vietnam War. She spent her later years teaching creative writing.
I first heard about Boyle from literary scholar and biographer Anne Boyd Rioux. Emily and I interviewed Anne at Orchard House, Louisa May Alcott’s home, as part of the Book Cougars’ Summer of Little Women in 2018. Anne’s book Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters was just coming out.
We always ask authors if they’d like to share what they’re currently working on. Anne replied that she had recently starting looking into expatriate women writers in post-WWI France and was fascinated by Kay Boyle. She is currently working on a biography of Boyle’s WWII years.
The other day I rediscovered a deck of Women Writers knowledge cards that Laura had bought me years ago. I opened the deck and chose a card at random. Lo and behold, it was Kay Boyle. I had read this Boyle card in the past, well before that interview with Anne Boyd Rioux, but her name had not stuck. It is sticking now.
I thought it was high time I read something by Boyle. My local library has a copy of Collected Poems of Kay Boyle and so I have been dipping into her poetry this week. This 1991 collection by Copper Canyon Press claims to contain all of Boyle’s poems, but one seems to have escaped collection: “Monody to the Sound of Zithers.”
Oddly, or not, it is this uncollected poem that resonates with me the most due to its imagery and grounding in nature. It was published in the December 1922 issue of Poetry.
Monody to the Sound of Zithers
I have wanted other things more than lovers … I have desired peace, intimately to know The secret curves of deep-bosomed contentment, To learn by heart things beautiful and slow. Cities at night, and cloudful skies, I’ve wanted; And open cottage doors, old colors and smells a part; All dim things, layers of river-mist on river— To capture Beauty’s hands and lay them on my heart. I have wanted clean rain to kiss my eyelids, Sea-spray and silver foam to kiss my mouth. I have wanted strong winds to flay me with passion; And, to soothe me, tired winds from the south. These things have I wanted more than lovers … Jewels in my hands, and dew on morning grass— Familiar things, while lovers have been strangers. Friended thus, I have let nothing pass. (Source: Poets.org)
Have you heard of Boyle or read anything by her? If you’d like to learn more about Boyle, this article by her first biographer, Sandra Spanier, is a good place to start.