To celebrate the UK’s national poetry week we share our favourite poems from living literary legend, Margaret Atwood.
In times like these, when appearance often subdues substance, a dark cloud sways over head, raining on culture, on history. A generation damned with memes and empowered with immeasurable connectivity, it is to no surprise that the sounds of our own voices cloud those of our peers and of our predecessors.
To combat this, every week we choose a personality, an era, or a work to celebrate from present or history, an enlightening cultural reference. It is our meagre attempt to re-civilising the selfie generation. This week we nominate Margaret Atwood, poet, novelist, professor, critic, family woman. Something crawls beneath my skin writing that last sentence, and this title “A Feminist Author Can Also be a Mother, Margaret Atwood”. 30 years after groundbreaking literature like Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) was written, published, read and loved, such a nauseating statement must still be made. Nauseating because it suggests that equal opportunity for all sexes remains a topic of debate and discussion. For the words father, husband and novelist are rarely read linearly. Interpretations or rather misinterpretations by generations of men and women alike of feminism, which is simply equal opportunity for all sexes, has been manipulated and disfigured. Bringing us to this moment where I must declare that a feminist can be a mother and a mother can be an award winning writer, and a damn good one at that.
Atwood’s sweetly cynical, courageous works -over 50 bodies of work- span over nearly half a century from when her first novel, The Edible Woman, was published in 1969 to today with her most recent work, a book of short stories called Stone Mattress: Nine Tales (2014). Her work has been translated into French, German, Italian, Urdu, Estonian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Catalan, Turkish, Russian, Finnish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Portuguese, Greek, Polish, Japanese, Icelandic, Spanish, Hebrew, and several other languages. All of the fiction is available in paperback in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K according to her website. Some of her works have been given second lives in the shape or a film like when Surfacing was produced into a movie in 1981 and when The Handmaid’s Tale was adapted for screen or when The Royal Winnipeg Ballet was turned into a real ballet production.
Recognition and appreciation of her work can also be measured in the many awards she has received over the decades. In her approximately 50 years as a published writer she has been awarded over 50 awards like the Guggenheim Fellowship, Commonwealth Literary Prize, Crystal Award, World Economic Forum, 2014 Harvard Arts Medal, Humanist of the Year Award and The Booker award to mention a few.
The author is best known for her novels: The Edible Woman (1969), The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) (which I read/watched in high school and hated/loved because reading on a deadline is never enjoyable even when it is a book you adore), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000.
Below we share two of our favourite poems from Canada’s national treasure, A Sad Child and Siren Song, both of which embody what we love most about Atwood’s craft her unapologetic, frightfully insightful understanding and recounting of human nature, ever so grey, ever so humorous.
We leave you with a quote from the woman, the legend, “The ability to remember the past helps us plan the future.” she tells The Telegraph in an interview.
Check back with us every week for a bit of the past to prepare you for the future and visit Atwood’s Twitter page for daily inspiration and conscious, critical thought.
A Sad Child by Margaret Atwood
You’re sad because you’re sad.
It’s psychic. It’s the age. It’s chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep.
Well, all children are sad
but some get over it.
Count your blessings. Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget.
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun,
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favorite child.
My darling, when it comes
right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you’re trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car,
and the red flame is seeping out of you
and igniting the tarmac beside your head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we all are.
Siren Song by Margaret Atwood
This is the one song everyone
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:
the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see beached skulls
the song nobody knows
because anyone who had heard it
is dead, and the others can’t remember.
Shall I tell you the secret
and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?
I don’t enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical
with these two feathery maniacs,
I don’t enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.
I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song
is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique
at last. Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.
Disclaimer *When we use the word civilised it is in no way to mock or look down on anyone. We are a team of wild women who thoroughly enjoy eating with our hands (specifically: popcorn, burgers, fries, pounded yam). We only wish to encourage the celebration of culture and history.