cover image The Door [With CD]

The Door [With CD]

Margaret Atwood. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $25 (120pp) ISBN 978-0-618-94272-5

The first book of poems in 12 years from the now world-famous Canadian author (The Handmaid's Tale) combines an older writer's reflections on aging with the dire warnings-political, environmental and moral-familiar from Atwood's recent fiction. Short lines and deliberate, balanced phrases consider how ""my mother dwindles and dwindles/ and lives and lives,"" how senior citizens hike and trek across tundra, and how privileged citizens of rich nations might understand refugees from far-off wars. ""Owl and Pussycat, Some Years Later""-the longest poem in the book, the wittiest and likely the best-retells the familiar rhyme as a parable of late-career poets, rueful and ""no longer semi-immortal,"" yet still conversing, still writing, as they go on rowing ""out past the last protecting/ sandbar."" Other verse shows Atwood-who began as a poet, despite her fame as a novelist-looking at the climate for new poetry amid the sometimes funny parochialism of its audiences (in Canada or anywhere). Yet the predominant notes are fiercely grim: ice melts and cracks, mammals head towards extinction, ""the hurt child will bite you... And its blood will seep into the water/ and you will drink it every day."" One page compares all poets everywhere to violinists on the Titanic. Another declares, truthfully, ""That's what I do:/ I tell dark stories/ before and after they come true.""