Margaret Atwood is one of the world’s most acclaimed writers. She is a novelist, poet, essayist as well as short story writer who has won numerous awards and accolades. Though mainly known for her novels—especially ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ that was made into a television series, and its 2019 sequel, ‘The Testaments’, which won the Booker Prize—you’d be missing out if you didn’t read her poetry collections. I’m not a big fan of poetry but Atwood’s poems strike a chord and make me think.
As Atwood herself puts it, “Poetry deals with the core of human existence: life, death, renewal, change; as well as fairness and unfairness, injustice and sometimes justice. The world in all its variety.” “Dearly” is Atwood’s 12th poetry collection but her first in over a decade.
Dedicated to her long-time partner Canadian novelist Graeme Gibson who died in 2019, Dearly is a collection of poems that celebrate life. Many of the pieces were apparently written in anticipation of Gibson’s death. He was suffering from dementia.
The poems in the anthology were penned over a period of 10 years, between 2008 and 2019. In the introduction, Atwood says she stored the poems in the drawer, and then when she felt she had enough (to publish), took them out and separated them into sections.
These are poems about memories, loss, ageing and endings, and new beginnings. They are also about everyday objects, routine, and birds and animals. You will also stumble upon love poems about zombies and tributes to women who have been raped and murdered.
The common thread is that all these poems make you reconsider your beliefs and ideas. In fact, there is something about Atwood’s writing that makes you do that—go into this zone from where things look a whole lot different.
Reading Dearly also makes you pay attention to the nature around you as Atwood describes the environment around her, in her hometown in Canada. These poems, inevitably, make you think of the challenges the world faces today—mostly the environmental degradation that we have let go unchecked.
Yet there are also poems you struggle to make sense of. Some don’t really communicate what you feel they are trying to convey. But you still find yourself going back to them to pick up clues you might have missed. That’s the power of Atwood’s writing. She is brilliant at evoking vivid imagery and her poetry is as fine as her prose, if not finer. All in all, Dearly is a sensitive understanding of what makes us human and the way Atwood describes the world makes you fall in love with it a little more.