Having promised myself I’d read more poetry in 2021, I could hardly resist the excuse to buy Atwood’s new poetry collection as a January treat (especially given it’s most beautiful cover, entirely fitting for the words inside).
I’ve been making my way in stops and starts through these since the start of the year. While a pretty big Atwood fan, I didn’t know that she started out as a poet before turning to writing novels. This collection is her first in a decade and brings together published and unpublished work from 2008 to 2019.
I relished them all. The poems are about change, renewal and endings, and ageing, grief and the climate crisis feature heavily. She made me smile but, much more often, cry. Though even among some of her most devastating poems, such as those about the death of her partner, are moments of playfulness that made me laugh out loud:
“Ears are superfluous: What are they for, / those alien pink flaps? / Skull fungus.”
Atwood’s superpower — in poetry and prose — is finding the perfect words and deploying them with absolute precision to conjure everything from fury to mirth. It is how she conveys the magic, devastating, mind-boggling experience of being human.
“The hands reaching in / among the leaves and spines / were once my mother’s. / I’ve passed them on. / Decades ahead, you’ll study your own / temporary hands, and you’ll remember. / Don’t cry, this is what happens.”