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Morning in the Burned House


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About the Author

MARGARET ATWOOD is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid's Tale (now a Hulu series) and its sequel The Testaments, her novels include The Blind Assassin (winner of the Booker Prize), Alias Grace (winner of the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy), The Robber Bride, Cat's Eye, The Penelopiad, The Heart Goes Last, and Hag-Seed, a novel revisitation of Shakespeare's play The Tempest, for the Hogarth Shakespeare Project. Her latest book of short stories is Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. She is also the author of the graphic novel Angel Cat-bird (with cocreator Johnnie Christmas). Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.


In her first poetry collection since 1987's Selected Poems II, Atwood brings a swift, powerful energy to meditative poems that often begin in domestic settings and then broaden into numinous dialogues. In ``In the Secular Night,'' the speaker, who has wandered through her house talking to herself of the ``sensed absences of God,'' realizes ``Several hundred years ago/this could have been mysticism/ or heresy. It isn't now.'' In five roughly thematic sections, Atwood often displays incisive humor (``Ava Gardner Reincarnated as a Magnolia''). The most vivid poems forge an apprehensible human aspect from scholarly fields of science, history and religion: in ``Half-hanged Mary'' a woman who was being hanged for witchery, survives and tolls each hour until she is cut down. The final grouping seems compiled from the charred remains of a deeply examined life, where only ``the power of what is not there'' may transcend. Atwood's lean, free-verse style renders these apocryphal poems intimate and immediate. (Sept.)

This is Atwood's first poetry collection in a decade, and its publication (her 12th overall) is a reminder that she is as prolific a poet as she is a novelist. As in her fiction, these poems are written with an arched eyebrow toward the foibles of the sexes, but she is at her most barbed when mocking the constraints society imposes on women. In an acerbic series of poems on famous femmes fatales, she empowers her women by lampooning "men and their mournful romanticisms/that can't get the dishes done." Atwood's satiric side is balanced by a darker, almost melancholy lyricism, shadowed by loss and a growing awareness of mortality. One section of the book is devoted to a group of moving poems on the death of her father and how the dead‘"especially those we have loved the most"‘return "from where we have shoved them/from under the ground, from under the water/they clutch at us,/we won't let go." Recommended for contemporary poetry collections and libraries with a strong Atwood following.‘Christine Stenstrom, Brooklyn P.L., N.Y.

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