Well, if all my posts about Margaret Atwood’s The Door haven’t convinced you how good the book is then I don’t know what else I can say. I enjoyed the whole book from cover to cover. Atwood’s wry sense of humor comes out in her poems a well as it does in her prose. She has a great talent for making me feel as though I have been punched in the stomach but somehow it’s funny and I am left gasping and crying, “do it again!”
The book contains lots of poems about poetry and poets and writing. There are also poems about war and environmental destruction. And a few poems about love. Some of the poems are couched in mythology and will feel familiar to those who have read her novella Penelopiad.
One of the things I like best about Atwood’s poetry is how accessible it is. Not one poem left me scratching my head wondering what it was about. She is like Mary Oliver and Jane Kenyon in that she never makes the reader feel dumb. This doesn’t mean any of their poems aren’t hard or don’t make you think, it just means they come from the everyday with everyday language. When Atwood’s language moves to high poetry, she usually is making fun of something–the language, a word, a situation. Atwood is a poet who wants to be understood. And she proves that there can be good poetry that doesn’t require a dictionary and years of training to understand. Her writing is wonderfully transparent–she has nothing to hide and she is not afraid–and it is a real pleasure to watch her perform on the page and pick apart what she is doing. She makes it all look so easy.
Here is one final poem that I think all you gardeners out there will especially appreciate.
Disturbed earth: some plants sprout quickly in it.
Sow thistles come to mind.
After you’ve wrenched them out
they’ll snake back underground
and thrust their fleshy prickled snouts in
where you intended hostas.
Hawkweed will do that. Purslane. Purple vetch.
Marginals, hugging ditches,
flagrant with seed,
strewing their pauper’s bouquets.
Why is it you reject them,
them and their tangled harmonies
and raffish madrigals?
Because they thwart your will.
I feel the same about them:
I hack and dig,
I stomp their pods and stems,
I slash and crush them. Still,
suppose I make a comeback–
a transmutation, say–
once I’ve been spaded under?
Some quirky growth or ambush?
Don’t search the perennial border:
look for me in disturbed earth.