cover image Morning in the Burned House

Morning in the Burned House

Margaret Atwood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-395-75591-4

In her first poetry collection since 1987's Selected Poems II, Atwood brings a swift, powerful energy to meditative poems that often begin in domestic settings and then broaden into numinous dialogues. In ``In the Secular Night,'' the speaker, who has wandered through her house talking to herself of the ``sensed absences of God,'' realizes ``Several hundred years ago/this could have been mysticism/ or heresy. It isn't now.'' In five roughly thematic sections, Atwood often displays incisive humor (``Ava Gardner Reincarnated as a Magnolia''). The most vivid poems forge an apprehensible human aspect from scholarly fields of science, history and religion: in ``Half-hanged Mary'' a woman who was being hanged for witchery, survives and tolls each hour until she is cut down. The final grouping seems compiled from the charred remains of a deeply examined life, where only ``the power of what is not there'' may transcend. Atwood's lean, free-verse style renders these apocryphal poems intimate and immediate. (Sept.)