• the thought fox

2 Poems - Margaret Atwood

Today is Margaret Atwood’s birthday. Happy Birthday Atwoodji! When you speak the names of legends, sometimes, you feel the soft rush of wings in the background, a kind of vazan. And you pause, only for a few moments, as if you are passing by an unknown sacred place. Margaret Atwood is such a name. Atwood cajoles language to resound with the coldness of steel on a winter evening. Her writing dances with nimble feet on the rough surface of entire continents, stripping down fascism to its ugly nakedness, dislocating the hegemony of the male gaze or etching out real imaginations of myth, history and culture, love, habitation, passion and daily life. The wayward beauty of her metaphors, and their realness - their primitive, rustic realness - give teeth to sharp political critique. I have not seen another writer whose light touch and playful indignation lights up the bigoted mythologies of our times with such disruption and panache. Atwood’s writing ranges from allegory in A Handmaid’s Tail (prose) to dissent and sub-alternity in This is a photograph of me (poetry) to the dark magic materiality of relationships and love in I was reading a scientific article (poetry). Sometimes her words breathe slow soporific whiffs on the waiting reader, lulling you into a pleasant reverie filled with a collage of vibrant, detailed images. She recently released a collection of poetry, Dearly, after more than a decade. I’m sharing a few lines from an article that she wrote in the Guardian, accompanying the eponymous poem from the anthology, after which I share two of her poems. Poetly has shared Atwood’s poetry before too - I was reading a scientific article and Variations on the word sleep.

“So it is with every poem: poems are embedded in their time and place. They can’t renounce their roots. But, with luck, they may also transcend them. All that means, however, is that readers who come along later may appreciate them, though doubtless not in the exact way that was first intended. Hymns to the Great and Terrible Mesopotamian Goddess Inanna are fascinating – to me at least – but they don’t cause the marrow to melt in my bones as they might have done for an ancient listener: I don’t think Inanna may appear at any moment and level a few mountains, though I could always be wrong about that…

…That advance warning having been issued, I’ll quote the postman in the film Il Postino, who’s nicked Neruda’s poems and ascribed them to himself in order to serenade his love. “Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it,” he says. “It belongs to those who need it.” Indeed, after the poem has passed out of the hands of the one who’s written it down, and after that person may have departed from time and space and be wafting around as atoms, who else can a poem belong to?

For whom does the bell toll? For you, dear reader. Who is the poem for? Also for you.

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