by syaffolee

The Door Swings Open

I recently finished The Door by Margaret Atwood.

Oh no, you might moan. She’s read yet another book of poetry? Hasn’t she learned that this writing format isn’t her thing since she hated the previous two books of poetry she’s reviewed? Of course not. Just because two Pulitzer Prize winners completely failed to impress me doesn’t mean that I’m going to write off the entire genre.

First off, I really enjoyed reading The Door. Atwood is wry and vivid–with a deft hand at verbal construction. Every word is deliberate, articulate, meaningful. Reading each poem is sort of like the Monty Hall game show, except there are no goats behind the doors, just cars, gems, something shiny and interesting. Well on second thought, if there was a goat, it would be a magic goat that could probably tell the future.

The collection is partially inspired by nursery rhymes and fairy tales. I particularly liked “Owl and Pussycat, some years later”–an ode to the practicalities of happily ever after. No one wants to hear about the problems, the narrator laments. Instead:

The worst is, now we’re respectable.
We’re in anthologies, We’re taught in schools,
with cleaned-up biographies and skewed photos.
We’re part of the mug show now.
In ten years, you’ll be on a stamp,
where anyone at all can lick you.

Many of the poems are also contemplations of life/death, as a poet and writer, as a daughter worrying about the decline of her parents, the passing of pets, nature’s cycle. One of my favorites is “The Last Rational Man” which crystallizes one of the collection’s themes of reason’s futility against madness. But really, it’s the language that hooks me. From “Reindeer Moss on Granite”:

In the rain they go leathery,
then sly, like rubber.
They send up their little mouths
on stems, red-lipped and round,

each one pronouncing the same syllable,
o, o, o, like the dumbfounded
eyes of minnows.

There is a CD, included with this volume, of Atwood reading a selection of her poems. At first, her rather monotone voice isn’t exactly charismatic. While her poems are full of barely restrained energy, the reading seems just restrained. But after tracks 4 or 5, her voice sort of grows on you. It’s dark, sometimes darkly humorous. Definitely worth a listen.