Margaret Atwood’s Poetry

by: Margaret Atwood

Motifs

Main ideas Motifs

Photographs

In her poems, Atwood uses photographs to explore identity, particularly the facades women adopt to conform (at least superficially) to society. “This is a photograph of me,” the first poem in her first collection, plays with the conventional equation of appearance and reality. The photograph obscures, rather than reveals, the speaker’s mysterious identity and history. Similarly, the speaker of “In the Tourist Centre in Boston” reflects on the perceived discrepancy between photographic images of Canada and her own memories of the place. The speaker’s “private mirage” takes precedence over the glossy colorized certainties depicted in the photographs. In the poem “Girl and Horse, 1928,” from Procedures for Underground, the speaker contemplates an old photograph of a girl, “someone I never knew,” and tries to imagine what the girl was thinking. In the end of the poem, the speaker turns over the photograph, whereupon the girl waves and rides “out of sight.” Thus photographs are no longer static recorders of a fixed history in which “nothing can change, grow older.” Instead, photographs represent the truths a viewer chooses to invent. More than a decade later, in “Postcards,” Atwood describes a photograph only to comment on its inability to capture the realities of a place.