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SELECTED POEMS: 1966 -1984

Margaret Atwood

Don Mills (Ont.), Oxford University Press, 1990. 320pp, paper, $19.95
ISBN 0-19-540808-X. CIP

Reviewed by Loys Maingon.

Volume 19 Number 1
1991 January

Atwood's fame as a novelist fre­quently overshadows her stature as a poet. This new selection of her collected poems will therefore be welcomed by her readers. The selection is broad and quite representative of the best of Atwood's development as a poet. The editor, who must be Atwood, has given the reader the integral version of The Journals of Susanna Moodie (Oxford University Press, 1970), which marked Atwood's first really mature work and her first clearly articulated feminist position.

Atwood the poet is more difficult to assess than Atwood the novelist. The political outlook that produces the sometimes overburdening satirical humour of her novels has adverse effects in her poetry. The novel is a socially committed genre, but the poet, unlike the novelist, must live ironically, both in and against society. Without this condition a poet cannot find a voice and falls victim to social imaging. In this respect Atwood's defences are often weak. Her commitment to the politics of feminism frequently causes her to reject images of masculine violence only to endorse the same violence in feminist guise.

As a result, the reader will be able to note that Atwood's various books of poetry are almost datable: they corre­spond to the progress of socially fashionable issues. An example of this will suffice. Two-Headed Poems (Oxford University Press, 1978) and True Stories (Oxford University Press, 1981) corre­spond to a high point in radical femi­nism; hence, one finds paraphrases of anecdotes and themes from Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology (Beacon Press, 1979). In this respect, Daly makes better reading.

These aspects of Atwood's poetry not only make good reading and may provide provocative contrasts for the reader, they give us an evolutionary structure by which to gain insights into Atwood's novelistic production.

Loys Maingon, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont.
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1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


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