Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Early Signs of Genius: a review of MARGARET ATWOOD, SELECTED POEMS 1965-1975



As the title clearly states, this is a selection of Atwood's poetry from her early years. It includes selections from previously published works, THE CIRCLE GAME (1966), THE ANIMALS IN THAT COUNTRY (1968), THE JOURNALS OF SUSANNA MOODIE (1970), PROCEDURES FOR UNDERGROUND (1970), POWER POLITICS (1971) and YOU ARE HAPPY (1974). 

The first few books were a bit too intimate for me. Many of the poems seemed like they are direct comments on her relationships with men, and it was just a bit too revealing. It made me uncomfortable, but that's what good poets should do. She does quite clearly establish herself as a feminist writer, themes which are soon to emerge in many of her novels.

The pace started to pick up a bit in THE JOURNALS OF SUSANNA MOODIE. I was pleasantly surprised that she had essentially written a verse novel. And this might be one of the earliest examples of this narrative structure. The voice of the poems progresses over time, as Susanna encounters life in new and unexpected ways. 

My favorites were the last two series of selections, ARE YOU HAPPY, being one of the best. Perhaps I was influenced because I've recently read THE PENELOPIAD and loved it. The last cycle in the book is a series of "Circe/Mud Poems". I was fascinated to read all the themes and foreshadowings in these poems that quite clearly informed her interpretation of THE ODYSSEY. 

Having familiarized myself with her novels, it was a joy to read her early work. The best thing about reading it was getting to know her in another context. It's quite clear that she has matured as a writer and developed her ideas into her body of work over time, while remaining true to herself and the beliefs she holds dearly.

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