Atwood, Margaret (Vol. 2)
Atwood, Margaret 1939–
Canadian poet Margaret Atwood's second book [The Animals in That Country] is one of the most interesting I have read in a long time. There is nothing "feminine" about the poems, which are unmetered and unrhymed, pruned of any excessive words; some of them present a sequence of uninterpreted details, but these are intriguing enough to beguile the reader into an attempt to penetrate their mystery….
What interests me is the compulsive subject of these poems: a distrust of the mind of man, the word, the imagination, even the poem. To Miss Atwood the world is a sacred mystery which can suffer death by the imagination, and man's every conceivable way of dealing with his world is a "surveying", "dissecting", "mapping", "anatomizing", and "trapping" of it, an "invasion" and a "desecration". A pencil, even in the hands of a poet, is a "cleaver"; what is completely captured by the poem dies.
Mona Van Duyn, "Seven Women," in Poetry (© 1970 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), March, 1970, pp. 430-39.
The Canadian poet Margaret Atwood has written a work of feminist black humor ["The Edible Woman"] in which she seems to say that a woman is herself likely to become another "edible" product, marketed for the male appetite that has been created (or, at least, organized) by the media.
This may put the matter more blackly than one should. Miss Atwood's comedy does not bare its teeth. It reads, in fact, like a contemporary "My Sister Eileen."… But Miss Atwood's imagination is too wacky and sinister for situation comedy—and, to our considerable diversion, her comic distortion veers at times into surreal meaningfulness.
Millicent Bell, "The Girl on the Wedding Cake," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 18, 1970, p. 51.
Margaret Atwood the poet generally operates on the basis of a tactile world hallucinated and at the same time engineered by her imagination. Thus a bowl of fruit or a photograph is never simply discovered "there", but rather arranged so that the form is understood to be wrought for its greatest intensity. That is, all phenomena, all we are allowed to see, mean, and the author is always behind, leading, pushing, but never giving, the meaning. Or at least not giving it away (ṀMargaret Avison's distinction).
Working that way, Margaret Atwood gives you just what she wants, and while that is usually enough for beautiful poetry, you often want to know more, maybe more than you should. Power Politics is a book of beautiful poetry. It offers lots of refracted material for the sense and opinions, and it remains a puzzle, or maybe a mystery. Probably the author wanted it that way.
If there's one thing Margaret Atwood is on top of it is the current sense of love as a political struggle. The success of the writing in this book depends on the composition's being attended to in the same perplex (see Doris Lessing's Golden Notebook). I think that the verse is the best that Atwood has done, because it takes itself seriously as subject, not as conveyance.
George Bowering, "Get Used to It," in Canadian Literature, No. 52, Spring, 1972, pp. 91-2.
Power Politics, by the Canadian Margaret Atwood, is … a top-flight sequence of poems about a love affair, written with intensity of feeling, careful craft, and harrowing imagery. The "he" of the poem is never given a name, and perhaps we have to guess too hard what "he" is doing or has done; is it a measure of the strength of this volume that we yearn for more factual details?…
Power Politics is an honest, searching book which touches deeply; it goes about as close to the core of the love struggle as Sylvia Plath did at her very best; we emerge from the experience shaken and at once tough and tender.
Dick Allen, "Shifts," in Poetry (© 1972 by The Modern Poetry...
(The entire section is 1,522 words.)