True Stories - Margaret Atwood
ISBN 0-19-540369-X (ppbk)

Margaret Atwood's ninth collection of poems, True Stories, was initially published by Oxford University Press in 1981. The cover art on the paperback edition, titled "Light Heart", was also created by Atwood. She was 42 years old the year this was published, living in Toronto, Ontario, and acting as President of the Writers' Union of Canada. That year she also won the Molson Award, was awarded a place in the Guggenheim Fellowship, and became a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Some of the poems in True Stories have appeared in the Canadian publications Exile, The Canadian Forum, Writing, and Saturday Night; as well, they have appeared in the U.S. publications Field and The Atlantic Monthly.

Poems appearing in True Stories:

True Stories, Landcrab I, Landcrab II, One More Garden, Postcard, Late Night, Petit Nevis, Hotel, Dinner, Nothing, Small Poems for the Winter Solstice, True Romances, A Conversation, Flying Inside Your Own Body, The Arrest of the Stockbroker, Torture, French Colonial, A Women's Issue, Christmas Carols, Trainride Vienna-Bonn, Spelling, Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written, Vultures, Last Poem, Earth, Use, Sunset I, Variations on the Word Love, Sunset II, Variation on the Word Sleep, Rain, Mushrooms, Out, Bluejays, Damside, Blue Dwarfs, High Summer, Last Day

This book left an impression on me and marked Atwood as a personal hero during my high school years. At an age where most of my friends were discovering an outlet for their angst through bad pop music, I was enthralled to find release through Atwood's sometimes lusty, sometimes quiet, sometimes angry words.

From the first poem, I was hooked:

The true story is vicious
and multiple and untrue

after all. Why do you
need it? Don't ever

ask for the true story.

Atwood is a terrific talent who paints vivid pictures with her words and still leaves enough to the reader's imagination. According to the FAQ on her official site, she is even uncomfortable interpreting her own work, for fear of inhibiting the reader from finding their own meaning.

The following is actually one of my favorite Atwood poems. I first read it in high school. I was given her as a project in English class; we were supposed to do something on Canadian authors, and since our teacher didn't want 15 essays on Leonard Cohen, he thought it wise to write poems from other authors down on slips of paper and we would draw them from a hat. As luck would have it, I got M. Atwood. So I took out whatever I could from the library and sank my teeth in. Reading this mirrored my teen-age lusty feelings about boys a little too well, and I suppose it is for this reason that it is one of my favorites. My favorite part of the poem:

If I'm to be
burned slowly cell by
cell or worn down that's
how. Of what use is the body
dancing, except to mark
the vacancy against which we
measure sound? Close your
eyes, out of sight is out of
time, draw your hand
again and again over my
skin and watch me vanish
into darkness, flicker
and reappear, this is my use for
you, shine with it, give
out light

I remember reading this poem out loud to the class as part of the project. I remember a lot of people getting a sleepy sweet dreamy sort of look on their faces, and nodding, nodding, they knew where she was coming from. I can read this poem again and again and not tire of it. I can read the entire book again and again and find something new. Her novels are good, but her poetry is where she really shines. And True Stories is an excellent example of that shining.


True Stories, M. Atwood