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Likely Stories : Dearly: New Poems, by Margaret Atwood

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

Margaret Atwood is one of the premier writers in English these days.  She has, to her credit, fifteen collections of poetry, seventeen novels, eight pieces of short fiction, ten non-fiction works, as well as seven works for children, and three graphic novels.  Dearly: New Poems is her latest work.



Many of her poems are rather long, but I will share a number of her shorter pieces.  I will begin with “Cicadas” – “Finally after nine years of snouting through darkness he inches up scarred bark and cuts loose the yammer of desire: // the piercing one-note of a jackhammer, / vibrating like a slow bolt of lightening splitting the air and leaving a smell like burnt tarpaper. // Now it says Now it says Now clinging with six clawed legs and close by, / a she like a withered ear, / a shed leaf, / brown and veined, / shivers in sync and moves closer. // This is it, / time is short / death is near, / but first / first, / first,/ first in the hot sun, / searing, / all day long, / in a month that has no name: / this annoying noise of love, // This maddening racket. // This—admit—song” (22). 

Next is “Songs for Murdered Sisters A cycle for baritone” 1. “Empty chair” // Who was my sister Is now an empty chair / Is no longer, / Is no longer there She is now emptiness She is now air” (32) and 2. “Enchantment” - “If this were a story I was telling my sister A troll from the mountain would have stolen her // Or else a twisted magician Turned her to stone // Or locked her in a tower Or hidden her deep inside a golden flower // I would have to travel West of the moon, / east of the sun to find the answer; // I’d speak the charm and she’d be standing there Alive and happy, / come to no harm But this is not a story. // Not that kind of story…” (33).

4. “Dream” - “When I sleep you appear I am a child then And you are young and still my sister And it is summer: I don’t know the future / Not in my dream I’m going away, / you tell me On a long journey. // I have to go away. // No, / stay, / I call to you As you grow smaller: // Stay here with me and play! // But suddenly I’m older And it’s cold and moonless And it is winter… (35). 

5. “Bird Soul” - “If birds are human souls What bird are you? / A spring bird with a joyful song? / A highflyer? / Are you an evening bird Watching the moon singing Alone, / Alone, Singing Dead Too Soon? // Are you an owl, / Soft-feathered predator? / Are you hunting, / restlessly hunting The soul of your murderer? / I know you are not a bird, / Though I know you’ve flown So far, so far away. // I need to be somewhere…” (36).  Dearly: New Poems is a marvelous collection by Margaret Atwood worthy of your admiration.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  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.