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Pickle Me This

October 22, 2007

The Door by Margaret Atwood

I do not possess the authority necessary to fairly review any book of poems, let alone Margaret Atwood’s The Door. First, I picked up the collection and read the poems straight through, the way you aren’t supposed to. I need to read them again, I need to read the book backwards, or upside-down, or something. However that one such as I, not possessing poetic authority, can pick up this collection and enjoy it– “accessible” has become such a bad word, but what about “appreciatable” with its various connotations?

Many people will read these poems for their poet, which might seem troublesome, but then I find nothing troublesome about people reading poems. Atwood has been prolific of late, with her story collections Moral Disorder and the more unconventional The Tent, her retelling of The Odyssey in The Penelopiad, and Writing With Intent, a collection of nonfiction, all published within the past two years. But Atwood was a poet first, so her poems should not be overlooked, and this collection seems very in keeping with the general sense of her other recent work. In “Another visit to The Oracle”, she writes: “There’s so much I could tell you/ if I felt like it. Which I do less and less./ I used to verbalize a mile a minute,/ but I’ve given it up. It’s/ too hard to turn the calories into words,/ as you’ll find find out too if you live/ long enough.”

Indeed physically Atwood’s once-sprawling texts have grown very slim. The poem goes on, “So I’ve had to edit. I’ve taken up/ aphorism. Cryptic, they say./ Soon I’ll get everything down to one word./ All crammed in there, very/ condensed you understand, like an/ extremely small black star. Like a black/ hole.” Lately Atwood seems to have banished superfluity, and in its place has appeared such a broad canvas of considerations that conciseness is only necessary. Her latest poems range from the personal (“My mother dwindles…”) to the political (“A poor woman learns to write”). She writes of environmental disaster, war and destruction, of art, aging, life and literary celebrity. She writes, “The dog has died./ This has happened before./ You got another;/ not this time though.”

Throughout this volume we receive glimpses of that titular door as it swings open and shut. “The door swings open,/ you look in./ It’s dark in there…” Death, it seems, is what lies behind, and it seems also that her own glimpses are driving Atwood forward. No time for epics, with so much to say. And so perhaps a poem is the perfect package for a message, the whole world rendered tiny and wrapped up in words. To be unwrapped and unwrapped, again and again, in a thousand different ways.

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