Dearly: New Poems

Ecco: HarperCollins. Nov. 2020. 144p. ISBN 9780063032491. $27.99. POETRY
Elegiac yet cautionary, Atwood’s first new collection since 2007’s The Door revolves around themes of mortality, environmental jeopardy, memory, feminism, and loss. These carefully tuned lyric poems, many lightly rhymed, often bear bitter witness to humankind’s self-destructive treatment of both planet (“Whatever we touch turns red”) and spirit (“we don’t have minds/ as such these days, but tiny snarls/ of firefly neural pathways/ signalling no/yes/no”). A lifelong activist, Atwood nicknames our geologic age The Plasticine, characterized by a civilization “spewing out mountains of whatnot,” filling oceans with a “neo-seaweed/ of torn bags, cast wrappers, tangled rope/ shredded by tides and rocks.” The final section of poems, haunted by “the shape of an absence,” are poignant with the memory of novelist Graeme Gibson, her partner for nearly a half-century who passed in 2019.
VERDICT Atwood’s flare for precise metaphor in no way softens her delivery, as when she observes “We are a dying symphony.” Combining the wit of Dorothy Parker with the wisdom of Emily Dickinson, Atwood adds a steely grace and richness all her own. If there is beauty in despair, one may find it here.
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