(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The title poem of Two-Headed Poems is, according to the speaker, “not a debate/ but a duet/ with two deaf singers.” In fact, the poem concerns the problems of being a Canadian neighbor to a world power whose corrupt values are expressed in the “duet.” Like the Siamese twins, described as “joined head to head, and still alive,” the United States and Canada are awkwardly joined: “The heads speak sometimes singly, sometimes/ together, sometimes alternately within a poem.” At times, it is clear which country speaks, but not always, for the two countries do share, however reluctantly, some characteristics. The leaders of both countries are criticized, though the leader who “is a monster/ sewn from dead soldiers” is an American president of the Vietnam era, a recurrent motif in the poem. Yet Atwood is as concerned about language as she is with actions, the nonverbal gestures. One “head” asks, “Whose language/ is this anyway?” The corruption of Canadian English, itself a political act, stems from the passive nature of a people content to be Americanized, to shut down “the family business” that was “too small anyway/ to be, as they say, viable.” The Canadians whose identity comes from “down there” in the United States are associated with “nouns,” but they are also hostile (the candy hearts become “snipers”) and impatient to act on their own:

Our dreams thoughare of freedom, a hungerfor verbs, a songwhich rises double, gliding beside usover all these rivers, borders,over ice and clouds.

The Canadian head calls for action to complete the sentence by combining with nouns, and the resultant language should not be a political statement, but a celebratory song, a “double” that transcends borders. The dreams of freedom are, however, only futile dreams, and the closing images are of being “mute” and of “two deaf singers.” Communication between the two “heads” is, by definition, impossible, and Atwood clearly implies that the American/Canadian coupling that impedes both countries is an aberration of nature.

Two-Headed Poems Bibliography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Margaret Atwood. New York: Chelsea House, 2000.

Bouson, J. Brooks. Brutal Choreographies: Oppositional Strategies and Narrative Design in the Novels of Margaret Atwood. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993.

Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Biography. Toronto: ECW Press, 1998.

Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2004.

Cuder, Pilar. Margaret Atwood: A Beginner’s Guide. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2003.

Grace, Sherrill E. Violent Duality: A Study of Margaret Atwood. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1980.

Hengen, Shannon. Margaret Atwood’s Power: Mirrors, Reflections, and Images in Select Fiction and Poetry. Toronto: Second Story Press, 1993.

Howells, Coral Ann, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

McCombs, Judith, ed. Critical Essays on Margaret Atwood. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988.

Moss, John, and Tobi Kozakewich, eds. Margaret Atwood: The Open Eye. Ottawa, Ont.: University of Ottawa Press, 2006.

Neschik, Reingard, ed. Margaret Atwood: Works and Impact. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2000.

Rao, Eleonora. Strategies for Identity: The Fiction of Margaret Atwood. New York: Lang, 1993.

Reynolds, Margaret, and Jonathan Noakes. Margaret Atwood: The Essential Guide. London: Vintage, 2002.

Stein, Karen F. Margaret Atwood. New York: Twayne, 1999.

Sullivan, Rosemary. The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out. Toronto: HarperCollins, 1998.

Wilson, Sharon R. Margaret Atwood’s Fairy-Tale Sexual Politics. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1993.