Canada’s Poet (Woman, Feminist, Novelist, Essayist, Speechifier…)

Night Poem

There is nothing to be afraid of,
it is only the wind
changing to the east, it is only
your father the thunder
your mother the rain

In this country of water
with its beige moon damp as a mushroom,
its drowned stumps and long birds
that swim, where the moss grows
on all sides of the trees
and your shadow is not your shadow
but your reflection,

your true parents disappear
when the curtain covers your door.
We are the others,
the ones from under the lake
who stand silently beside your bed
with our heads of darkness.
We have come to cover you
with red wool,
with our tears and distant whipers.

You rock in the rain’s arms
the chilly ark of your sleep,
while we wait, your night
father and mother
with our cold hands and dead flashlight,
knowing we are only
the wavering shadows thrown
by one candle, in this echo
you will hear twenty years later.

Margaret Atwood

Atwood, on being a poet:

I’m supposed to be talking in a vaguely autobiographical way about the connection between life and poetry, or at least between my life and my poetry. I recently read an account of a study which intends to show how writers of a certain age — my age, roughly — attempt to “seize control” of the stories of their own lives by deviously concocting their own biographies. However, it’s a feature of our age that if you write a work of fiction, everyone assumes that the people and events in it are disguised biography — but if you write your biography, it’s equally assumed you’re lying your head off.

This last may be true, at any rate of poets: Plato said that poets should be excluded from the ideal republic because they are such liars. I am a poet, and I affirm that this is true. About no subject are poets tempted to lie so much as about their own lives; I know one of them who has floated at least five versions of his autobiography, none of them true. I of course — being also a novelist — am a much more truthful person than that. But since poets lie, how can you believe me?

Here then is the official version of my life as a poet:

I was once a snub-nosed blonde. My name was Betty. I had a perky personality and was a cheerleader for the college football team. My favourite colour was pink. Then I became a poet. My hair darkened overnight, my nose lengthened, I gave up football for the cello, my real name disappeared and was replaced by one that had a chance of being taken seriously by the literati, and my clothes changed colour in the closet, all by themselves, from pink to black. I stopped humming the songs from Oklahoma and began quoting Kirkegaard. And not only that — all of my high heeled shoes lost their heels, and were magically transformed into sandals. Needless to say, my many boyfriends took one look at this and ran screaming from the scene as if their toenails were on fire. New ones replaced them; they all had beards.

Believe it or not, there is an element of truth in this story. It’s the bit about the name, which was not Betty but something equally non-poetic, and with the same number of letters. It’s also the bit about the boyfriends. But meanwhile, here is the real truth:

I became a poet at the age of sixteen. I did not intend to do it. It was not my fault.

More at Canadian Poets

Atwood at The Poetry Archive, including audio of Atwood reading several poems – I confess, I adore her voice – yes, adore!

Atwood at poets.org

“Margaret Atwood’s Hands”  by George Bowering at Studies in Canadian Literature

Margaret Atwood’s Poetry at luminarium.org

Atwood’s poem “Variations on the Word ‘Sleep’” with comments, at The Wondering Minstrels (love this site)

O.W. Toad Margaret Atwood Reference Site

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