Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Reader's Diary #41- Margaret Atwood: Selected Poems II (Up to "Keep")

All jokes aside, Margaret Atwood is one gutsy lady. I don't know if it's confidence or not, but she takes on some pretty risky symbols for a modern-day poet, or so I would think.

I'm not talking about the guts it took to write "A Women's Issue" either. Though it's poems like that one which most likely led to her being branded (for right or for wrong) a feminist. I'm not too concerned with that. It was neither my favourite poem nor my least favourite. I think readers have to take into account Margaret Atwood's generation and the time at which that poem was written. Then it's not the terrible cliche of a feminist poem that it first appears to be when read today, nor does it offer a new "women's issue". It seems stuck in 1981.

No, gutsy as that might as been, I'm talking about creative guts. I don't know how many new poets would dare take on such historic, ubiquitous and potentially stale symbols such as the moon, sunsets, and snakes. I think a lot of people would shy away from such topics nowadays, fearing that there's nothing left to be said. But Atwood is able (for the most part) to still bring something fresh to the table (speaking of cliches). And when she isn't able to say something fresh, she'll at least make it seem like it's your fault. Consider this stanza from "Eating Snake":
"(Forget the phallic symbolism:/two differences:/snake tastes like chicken,/and
who ever credited the prick with wisdom?)"
And there are other times when she relies on our schemas of such symbols. In "Quattrocento" for example, it is almost taken for granted that we, the readers, are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve's encounter with the serpent.
But (to me anyway) these poems are NOT trite and redundant, though there was much risk of being just that. Fortunately, there is a balance of less common symbols and images. "Mushrooms" is a great example.
Also, "Out" is the perfect antithesis for Al Purdy's "Rooms For Rent In The Outer Planets". I doubt that was intentional, but it works nonetheless.
(And for interest sake, getting back to my werewolf theory...
Exhibit G: "Now there's a moon,/ and irony." - from Sunset II
Exhibit H: "...with its watery sun & three moons..." - from Variation on the Word Sleep
Exhibit I: "...poisonous moons, pale yellow." - from Mushrooms
Exhibit J: "Everything/ leans into the pulpy moon." - from Last Day
Exhibit K: A whole section from a book called "Interlunar")


Unknown said...

Where can I find Margaret Atwood's poem "Eating Snake"?

John Mutford said...

Asides from the actual book (which I borrowed from the library), I'm not sure where you could find it. Sorry.