© Image by Jim Allen

Margaret Atwood

(b. 1939)

"With a lyric poem, you look, and meditate, and put the rock back. With fiction you poke things with a stick to see what will happen." - Margaret Atwood

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • The Circle Game, Canada, Toronto, Contact Press, 1966 - out of print
  • The Animals in That Country, Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1969 - out of print
  • The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Oxford University Press, 1970
  • Procedures for Underground, Oxford University Press, 1970 - out of print
  • Power Politics, Toronto, Anansi, 1971 - out of print
  • You Are Happy, Oxford University Press, 1974 and New York, Harper & Row, 1974 - out of print
  • The Poetry and Voice of Margaret Atwood, Audio Cassette, Caedmon, 1977
  • Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, 1976 and New York, Simon & Schuster, 1978 - out of print
  • Two-Headed Poems, Oxford University Press, 1978 - out of print
  • True Stories, Oxford University Press, 1981 and London, Jonathan Cape, 1982 - out of print
  • The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English (editor), Oxford University Press, 1982
  • Circle Game, House of Anansi Press Ltd ,Canada, 1983
  • Interlunar, Oxford University Press, 1984 and Jonathan Cape, 1988 - out of print
  • Selected Poems 1966-1984, Oxford University Press, 1990 - out of print
  • Morning in the Burned House, Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1995; Houghton Mifflin, 1995 and Virago Press, 1995 - out of print
  • Eating Fire: Selected Poetry 1965-1995, Virago Press, 1998
  • Selected Poems, Oxford University Press (Canada), 2004
  • Margaret Atwood Reading from her poems, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2005
  • Door, Virago 2009
Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) is familiar to readers all over the world as the author of some of the finest and most influential fiction of the last few decades. Titles like The Handmaid's Tale, Alias Grace, and The Robber Bride have won many awards, sold in their millions and have been made into films. But her poetry is the equal of her prose and across her many collections she has assembled a powerful and invigorating body of work.

Born in Ottawa, Canada, she grew up in Toronto but spent her summers in northern Quebec. The history and landscape of her country are important influences: in the course of her Archive recording she comments, "one of the primary interests for a Canadian writer always has to be geology followed by geography." However, whilst Canada may provide the context, her poems' scalpel-sharp language transcends national boundaries to address issues of far-reaching concern: feminism, the power-play of personal relationships, global politics, the environment. She is in complete control of the many tones she deploys, from laconic ('February', 'Siren Song'), through world-weary and wise ('Miss July Grows Older') to the fiercely visionary, ('Speeches for Dr Frankenstein', 'The Journals of Susanna Moodie'). As the mood of the reading darkens into poems about the death of her father, she also reveals a pained tenderness that refuses sentimentality as in 'King Lear in Respite Care': "Rage occurs,/followed by supper". Throughout, strong emotion is held in check by a sceptical intelligence that rejects pity (for herself or others) but not compassion.

Atwood's own clipped accent and precise diction are a perfect complement to the work. Her deadpan delivery brings out its humour and irony, but doesn't hold the reader at bay. Listening to her dramatic monologue, 'The Loneliness of the Military Historian', it's hard not to hear in the words of her character something of Atwood's own approach to writing: "My trade is courage and atrocities./I look at them and do not condemn./I write things down the way they happened".

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 14 January 2002 at CBC, Toronto, Canada and was produced by Chuck Jutras.


1966 Governor General's Award, Circle Game

1967 Centennial Commission Poetry Competition, Winner

1969 Union Poetry Prize, Chicago

1981 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship

1981 Companion of the Order of Canada

1982 Arts Council of Wales International Writer's Prize

1986 Toronto Arts Award

1987 Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

1988 YWCA Women of Distinction Award

1988 American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Foreign Honorary Member, Literature

1990 Order of Ontario

1990 Centennial Medal, Harvard University

1994 Chevalier de L'Ordres des Arts et des Lettres, French Ministry of Education and Culture, Paris

1995 Trillium Award for Excellence in Ontario writing, Morning in the Burned House

1996 Norwegian Order of Literary Merit

1996 Canadian Booksellers Association Author of the Year

1997 National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature

1999 London Literature Award

2003 The Radcliffe Medal

2003 Harold Washington Literary Award

2005 Edinburgh's International Book Festival Enlightenment Award

2005 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize

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