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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Reader's Diary #31- Margaret Atwood: Selected Poems II (Up to "Two Headed Poems" vii)


With the exception of her "You Fit Into Me" poem, I had only read Atwood as a novelist. I've enjoyed (some more than others) the four books of hers that I read, so I decided to give her poetry a try. This was the only poetry collection of hers that I could find at the local library and I figured it was as good a book to start with as any.

So far, I'm not all that into it. I'm not quite able to put my finger on why but there are two things not sitting well with me. First, her habit of breaking each line at such a place wherein the last word could be a follow-up to the previous line or a set-up for the next. It's not an uncommon practice in free-form poetry and perhaps the technique has some term that I'm unaware of. My problem isn't with the technique itself but with her overuse of it. Often it seems like this is the only gimmick in her bag of tricks. For example:

"the nets rot, the boats rot, the farms/ revert to thistle, foreigners/
and summer people admire the weeds"
-From "Four Small Elegies iv- Dufferin, Simcoe, Grey"
Do you see how "foreigners" can be interpreted as following the previous words? As in "everything's been taken over by weeds and foreigners" Or as leading the next words? As in "foreigners and tourists are the only ones coming to enjoy it as a sort of dead cultural site." These aren't opposing views and so the split isn't a bad one per se, but...shouldn't the poems have something else to offer?
The second reason I'm not yet enjoying the collection, and I'm reluctant to bring it up because I can't figure out why, is the feeling of smugness I get. I know this isn't being fair to Atwood, because I can't back up my argument all that well. The closest I can get is through the title "Two-Headed Poems". I feel this is some sort of boast that her poems are somehow superior because they have two meanings, two ways of interpretation. Well, don't a lot of poems? That's one of the most appealing things I find about poetry. Hers aren't unique. But again, I apologize- perhaps I've read too much (and too poorly) into the title. Afterall, there must be some intentional irony or self-satire (again excuse my poor terminology) in the poem describing a politician when she asks the question:
"How can you use two languages/ and mean what you say in both?"
- from "Two-Headed Poems vii"
because afterall, what is a poet but a politician with not as much at stake?

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