The cover of Margaret Atwood’s new collection of poetry – taken from a recent work by British sculptor Kate MccGwire – features a great swirl of deep blue feathers, touched by tones of light grey and brown; and it’s appropriate not only because of the number of birds that appear in the 57 poems, or sequences of poems, gathered in this book, but because of the soaring quality of the verse itself, which is often dark, but always illuminated by characteristic flashes of brilliance and wit, and powered by a pure force of creative energy that sometimes feels like a mighty wind, lifting us up and shifting the ground beneath us as we read ... In her novels as in her poetry, though, there are two interwoven strands in her presence as a writer; the one sharp, committed, knowing, political and polemical, the other profoundly poetic, wedded to the ever-shifting miracle of language itself, and far more mysterious and unpredictable in its preoccupations and outcomes ... Atwood’s poetry is vibrant with purpose, brilliant, hard-edged, and instantly legible; and they will doubtless become classics of our troubled time, quoted in polemics and taught in schools ... this whole collection stands as a mighty demonstration of how great poetry can embody and celebrate the sheer vibrancy and beauty of life, in the face of the most profound sorrow and terror. Read these poems aloud, read them carefully, read them with joy and tears; savour the raw power of their rhythms and assonances, and the sheer mastery with which Atwood, at the height of her powers, transforms anger and grief into glinting beauty and brilliance.
This collection of poems, her first in over 10 years, is a reckoning with the past that comes from a place of wisdom and control. Now 81, she harnesses the experience of a lifetime to assume a wry distance from her subjects – as if, in an astounding world, nothing could throw her off balance. This mastery, even at her most subversively fantastical, is part of what makes her an outstanding novelist. But poetry is different. Atwood is an undeceived poet and, even though the collection is full of pleasures, reading her work makes one consider the extent to which poetry is not only about truth but about the importance of being, at times, mercifully deceived – what Robert Lowell dubbed the 'sanity of self-deception'.
Spiked with surprising juxtapositions and wily delight in language, at times mordant, frequently hilarious, and always unflinching, Atwood’s poems are rooted in nature, with spotlights on spiders, cicadas, and slug sex.