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Likely Stories: Selected Poems, 1965-1975

Jim McKeown
Selected Poems: 1965-1975 by Margaret Atwood

Collection of poetry by renowned Canadian Author, winner of numerous awards, including the Booker prize for Blind Assassin

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Last year, I reviewed Margaret Atwood’s latest book of short stories, The Stone Mattress.  That excellent volume made me wonder why I had neglected this favorite writer in preparing reviews for “Likely Stories.”  I went through my collection and picked the one or two of her books I had not recently read.  I settled on Selected Poems, 1965-1975.

Margaret Atwood was born in Canada on November 18, 1939.  She is a poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist.  She won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for fiction, and she has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times and won once for her novel, Blind Assassin.  She has published 14 novels, four books of stories, essays, and three collections of unclassifiable short prose pieces.  She has also published fifteen books of poetry.  Many of her poems have been inspired by myths and fairy tales, which have been interests of hers from an early age. 

Atwood’s Selected Poems deal with the situations women are forced into solely because of their gender.  In a series entitled, “Circe/Mud Poems,” we find excellent examples of her power as a poet.  These 24 poems include my favorites.  All are untitled as individual pieces.  Atwood writes, “Through this forest / burned and sparse, the tines / of blunted trunks, charred branches // this forest of spines, antlers / the boat glides as if there is water. // Red fireweed splatters the air / it is power, power / impinging, breaking over the seared rocks / in a slow collapse of petals. // You move within range of my words / you land on the dry shore. // You find what there is.” (201).

The second quickly gets down to business.  “Men with heads of eagles / no longer interest me / or pig-men, or those who can fly / with the aid of wax and feathers // or those who take off their clothes / to reveal other clothes / or those with skins of blue leather // or those golden and flat as a coat of arms / or those with claws, the stuffed ones / with glass eyes; or those / hierarchic as greaves and steam engines. // All these I could create, manufacture, / or find easily: they swoop and thunder / around the island, common as flies, / sparks flashing, bumping into each other, // on hot days you can watch them / as they melt, come apart, / fall into the ocean / like sick gulls, dethronements, plane crashes. // I search instead for the others, / the ones left over, / the ones who have escaped from these / mythologies with barely their lives: / they have real faces and hands, they think / of themselves as / wrong somehow, they would rather be trees” (202).

I frequently hear students and interviewers ask, “What does this poem mean?”  The best answer is, “Whatever you think!”  So read these poems and decide for yourself.  No matter an individual’s answer, the power of her words, imagery, and allusions will bring a reader back to Margaret Atwood again and again.  Selected Poems, 1965-1975 is an excellent place to begin exploring the mind of this amazing woman writer.  5 stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read my book blog at RabbitReader.blogspot.com.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.