A lot of people don’t like poetry, but a lot of people also never read poetry. Or the only poetry they read comes from the New Yorker, and really – that’s one kind of brand of poetry, not the whole kitchen kaboodle. A lot of other people like to say they enjoy poetry, when really, they don’t. I am one of those people who works to understand poetry, because I find it super creatively inspiring.
In college I took an intro to poetry class where the professor was this amazing black man from Detroit who used to say “ya dig?” when he was explaining a concept. He was about 5 feet tall, always wore a matching old man hat in the same color as his shirt, was rather indifferent to teaching, and I would have done him in a micro-second. Mm.
In grad school I took a semester of poetry (while my focus was long fiction) because when classmates would ask other classmates what kind of writing they did, I hated when their answer was so limiting like “short fiction” or “poetry”. I liked it all and I made a point to say “the good kind,” because I want to write everything, I want to read everything, why only allow myself one kind?
But I digress.
This is my first peek inside Margaret Atwood’s poetry. It was written in 2007 and came with an audio CD of her reading her work out loud (which I haven’t listened to yet because I’m saving it for a rainy day). I’ve never heard Margaret Atwood read out loud – though I know she’s making her way around the world right now on a reading tour. I am not lucky enough to have her come to my city (I don’t think…).
Her poetry is personal, where her fiction isn’t as much. I feel like I’m living inside her mind, swimming around in her thoughts with each poem. And on top of that she gives stunner descriptions, stunner lines. And these micro moments of poetry have the ability to transport me through my own memory, or into her’s to places I’ve never been.
Sunrise. The thin pocked sheets
are being washed. The city’s old,
but new to me, and therefore
strange, and therefore fresh.
Everything’s clear, but flat –
even the oculists’s dingy eyes,
even the butcher’s, with its painted horse,
its trays of watery entrails
and slabs of darkening flesh.
Excerpt from: Europe on $5 A Day
That was my solo trip to Paris. In a fist full of words I’m back there, walking the streets with huge eyes and a shiny clean feeling.
We used to watch the birds;
now we watch the weather.
White clouds, downy as pillows,
grey ones like giant thumbs,
dark ones, fat with doom.
Once, we didn’t bother.
We had umbrellas, and rooms.
But while we were looking elsewhere,
at wars or other diversions,
the weather crept up behind us
like a snake or thug or panther
and then cut loose.
This reminds me of the horrible weather, the tornadoes, the death, that has been ripping the middle of the country to shreds. I feel like in the last 10 years weather has become ominous, weather has become threatening. We’re suffocating the earth and its fighting back, right? Atwood is a hardcore environmentalist and it comes out in her fiction, but I loved being able to see it in her poetry. So beautiful, and so dangerous all at once.
This book is not to be read in one sitting, but to be read one poem at a time, maybe before bed, maybe when you get home from work. Take a little sips of it here and there, let it swish around in your mouth and put it down.
The surprising bit of the book? Atwood loves her cats. There are lots of cats, mourning cats, celebrating cats. I’m not a huge cat fan, so that part just sort of made me laugh. Oh Atwood, you would be a cat lady, wouldn’t you? I love you more for being so honest with it.