Something like Bieber Fever

While I have been toiling away at life matters—mostly teaching at this point, I have been immersing myself in Atwood. Her poetry is like magic to me. One night, being so inspired and honestly consoled by her words, I tweeted her, even. This is what crazy Bieber fans probably do, too, so I’m not shedding any positive light on myself here. I’m thisclose to screaming and waving my underwear around. But probably not.

Me: @MargaretAtwood Revisiting your poem today. Think your my word soulmate. (Picture of poem from book).

Atwood: Thank you…

C’mon, everyone. Clearly, I have an “infamous” reputation for mishaps—for those of you who do not know about my mistakenly using the word “infamous” on all things work-related/published, that was a treat. Yeah… I did that. But don’t be judgmental; many people I questioned didn’t know that “infamous” wasn’t, in fact, another way to describe something as “famous.” Unfortunately, the definition states: “Well known for some bad quality or deed.” Shit. I doubt my company minds too much that I described our products as such.

Imaginary Person #1: How about that infamous Italian pasta? 
Imaginary Person #2: Oh yeah! I heard about that a few years back—kidnapped a stick of pepperoni and was never seen again.

But even with my super obvious spelling issue, Atwood responded! Don’t you dare for one second think that I didn’t tweet her again to right my wrong, because I did. I had to. Margaret Atwood, don’t think I’m an idiot! (This is not exactly what I said.) It was late and I was gushing and obviously too concerned with how many times it took me to snap that photo without it being blurry or cut off. Truth.

For those of you who have no idea who Miss Atwood is, well shame on you! Haha. But even if you are avidly against poetry, do yourself a favor and read “Variation on the Word Sleep.” If that last stanza doesn’t gut you, you’re probably not awake.

I realize this entry is about to become all about poetry, but I’ve been on a roll here—grabbing inspiration where I find it. Recently, I read an interview from 1978. The interviewer being the infamous (kidding), the famous Joyce Carol Oates. So in this Q & A article found in The New York Times, “On Being a Poet: A Conversation With Margaret Atwood,” Atwood totally digs at the guts of being a poet. I wanted to highlight this one part, because it doesn’t just answer the “who” but the “why.” And I totally agree, though, I have never been able to say it so articulately.

Q. Who influenced you as a poet?

A. Poe was my earliest “influence” back in high school, when I was beginning to write poetry and before I’d heard of anyone after, say, 1910. I don’t think of poetry as a “rational” activity but as an aural one. My poems usually begin with words or phrases which appeal more because of their sound than their meaning, and the movement and phrasing of a poem are very important to me. But like many modern poets I tend to conceal rhymes by placing them in the middle of lines, and to avoid immediate alliteration and assonance in favor of echoes placed later in the poems. For me, every poem has a texture of sound which is at least as important to me as the “argument.” This is not to minimize “statement.” But it does annoy me when students, prompted by the approach of their teacher, ask, “What is the poet trying to say?” It implies that the poet is some sort of verbal cripple who can’t quite “say” what he “means” and has to resort to a lot of round-the-mulberry-bush, thereby putting the student to a great deal of trouble extracting his “meaning,” like a prize out of a box of Cracker Jacks.

You tell ’em, Atwood.


  1. Take It Off says:

    Oh my, of course I would be the one to disagree with Margaret Atwood here. Because I'm pushy and opinionated. I love her, and I agree with 75% of that answer, but I think it should be clear to the reader what the poet is trying to say. Confusing poetry is what keeps readers away from poetry. You dig? But good post!

  2. 1flychicken says:

    Aha! Point taken, Scarfface. I think you're right in the sense that confusing poetry is what keeps readers away; however, I think she is just trying to say that logistics are just as important as sound, though that may be confusing in itself!

    I don't know. What I know is… when I write poetry, it is typically more a passionate act than a logical one, and so this is why I relate. When I know I have to be more explanatory/narrative, I do some revising.

    Either way, this is 1978, right? I think people just want everything handed to them—especially these days. Personally, I love poems that are a little more intricate, require more thought, and so sometimes you get more than one (hopefully) feeling or, I hate to say, “interpretation.” But that's from a poet…

    What about you? Are you off-put by poetry that isn't narrative? That isn't super concise in logistics? I'm not trying to demean… really it's different strokes for different folks.

    Ah, gotta run. Answer me, woman!

  3. Take It Off says:

    I'm not a strictly narrative fan, but I'm off-put by poetry that is confusing. I think it can be rich in language with many intricacies and interpretations. In fact, all poems, narrative or otherwise, should strive for those things. But if it's just a word bath with no deeper connection or point, then to me it's off-putting. My goal as a writer is not to confuse my reader, it's to make them feel something. I don't need a narrative poem to feel something, but I do think the writer's intent should be clear. Otherwise, it's confusing and pushes people away. Not to mention it's probably a sign that the writer was possible confused while writing it.

    But 1978. Neither of us were even born then, so who knows what those hippies were doing. They were pasting strips of velvet to their poems for all we know. You've seen Oates's hair. C'mon.

  4. 1flychicken says:

    HAHA… first of all, “word bath” is awesome, and if you just came up with that, I think we need to wed.

    Seriously though, I completely agree with that statement. I mean, there is a line between “lyrical” (which I truly despise that term) and having no sense at all. I think, however, in my experience, my profs were always pushing for “clarity”—to the point of traumatizing both my poem and voice, at times. And when I read those poems, the ones they write, they are very narrative and unlike the poem I was after. Not that mostly narrative poems can't be good; they just aren't me. I recall someone telling me once that I didn't need to “sound poetic,” just write it out, as if I was sitting there coming up with obscure and clever ways to say things as to make myself “sound” like a poet. Annoying.

    This is not to say with their advice, I did not find a happy medium, because I did! (This mostly a grad school thing, anyhow.) Unfortunately, I find myself veering into the darkness again! HA! I need more school, obvi.

    What I gleaned from Atwood's response, though, was that she values sound just as much as meaning. Near the end, she comments that she dislikes when instructors ask: “What is the poet trying to say?” Emphasis on the word “trying”… or at least that is how I took it. Like what is the writer “trying” to say that he/she hasn't said exactly?

    Hm. Either way, good conversation on the matter. You're probably the only one that read this. But it made me think of you with Oates. Hahaha…


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