‘The Door’ by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 stars

Poetry is a powerful medium to explore a variety of themes. In the collection The Door, Margaret Atwood delves into trauma, mourning, war, the destruction of the natural world, the healing power of nature, and the role of poets. If some poems are crawling with an ironic tone, others are more emotive. Gothic elements are also complemented with more matter-of-fact features.

The trail of devastation that human beings are leaving behind is touched on in various poems. That is the case of ‘It’s Autumn’ and ‘Bear Lament’. The destructive power of fossil fuels certainly served as inspiration for ‘Gasoline’. We know that using it can lead to disaster, but we seem to be enchanted by its properties.

The natural world, on the other hand, is painted almost as a form of redemption. ‘Enough of These Discouragements’ can be read as an illustration of some people’s hypocrisy. While humanity seems to yearn for some peace through the depiction of nature, the actions of some reveal a tendency for violence and destruction.

“I’m not an angel.

I’m only a shadow,

the shadow of your desires.

I’m only a granter of wishes.

Now you have yours.”

War is another recurring theme in the collection. ‘Nobody Cares who Wins’ is a poem about the pleasing feeling of winning a war being ephemeral. What lasts is the pain felt by those who lost their loved ones. One of my favourite poems in the collection, ‘War Photo’, is a magnificent illustration of the consequences of war on women. The nonchalant and almost ironic way violent scenes are depicted is powerful and painful, as it highlights how society seems to sometimes be unmoved by violence.

“The dead woman thrown down on the dusty road

is very beautiful.

One leg extended, the other flexed, foot pointed,

toward the knee, the arm flung overhead, the hand

relaxed into a lovely gesture

a dancer might well study for years

and never attain.”

The illusion that readers are closely observing people is replicated in a couple of poems. A woman writes her name for the first time in ‘A Poor Woman Learns to Write’, and a poet bares his soul to those who listen to his poetry in ‘Poetry Reading’.

Sadness, traumatic experiences and abstract nouns are also given a poetic form in The Door. Mourning for lost cats is a theme in ‘Blackie in Antarctica’, ‘Mourning for Cats’ and ‘January’, which is the most emotional of the three. ‘The Hurt Child’ explores how the traumas experienced by children have consequences in their lives down the road. In ‘Secrecy’, the act of keeping something a secret becomes a visual action connected with our body parts.

While some of the poems are written in an ironic tone and have a beating rhythm to them, such as ‘Another Visit to the Oracle’, others reveal a gothic inspiration. In ‘Questioning the Death’ and ‘The Nature of Gothic’, fright and emotion are present in every verse.

Although not all of the poems in The Door are memorable and striking thanks to their musicality (some poems read too much like flash fiction), the collection as a whole is admirable. Margaret Atwood proves her versatility.

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