Poetry Friday: Atwood’s A Women’s Issue

As we celebrate Women’s month along with the Kidlit Community (which coincides beautifully with our very own bimonthly theme on Girl Power and Women’s Wiles), it seems fitting to begin our Poetry Friday contribution with female poets who have touched our sensibilities in mighty profound ways.

I first knew Margaret Atwood as a poet rather than a novelist. I was introduced to her Variations on the Word Love and Variations on the Word Sleep (which I also featured for Poetry Friday several moons back) by a very good friend. I was also deeply moved by her poems that spoke sharply and incisively about women’s realities. I figured that it would be great to begin with her as our Fridays (until the 9th of May) would be devoted entirely to celebrating female poets. Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Gregory K from Gotta Book.

A Women’s Issue by Margaret Atwood

The woman in the spiked device 
that locks around the waist and between 
the legs, with holes in it like a tea strainer 
is Exhibit A. 

The woman in black with a net window 
to see through and a four-inch 
wooden peg jammed up 
between her legs so she can’t be raped 
is Exhibit B. 

Exhibit C is the young girl 
dragged into the bush by the midwives 
and made to sing while they scrape the flesh 
from between her legs, then tie her thighs 
till she scabs over and is called healed. 
Now she can be married. 
For each childbirth they’ll cut her 
open, then sew her up. 
Men like tight women. 
The ones that die are carefully buried. 

The next exhibit lies flat on her back 
while eighty men a night 
move through her, ten an hour. 
She looks at the ceiling, listens 
to the door open and close. 
A bell keeps ringing. 
Nobody knows how she got here. 

You’ll notice that what they have in common 
is between the legs. Is this 
why wars are fought? 
Enemy territory, no man’s 
land, to be entered furtively, 
fenced, owned but never surely, 
scene of these desperate forays 
at midnight, captures 
and sticky murders, doctors’ rubber gloves 
greasy with blood, flesh made inert, the surge 
of your own uneasy power. 

This is no museum. 
Who invented the word love?

19 Comments on Poetry Friday: Atwood’s A Women’s Issue

  1. This is such a powerful poem, Ma’am. I flinched at some of the lines. I love Margaret Atwood. It was actually the other way around for me. I first encountered her in one of my English Lit classes. I enjoyed reading her short story entitled Happy Endings. Do check it out if you haven’t read it yet. :)

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  2. Wow. This is a powerful, disturbing, and important poem. I didn’t know she wrote poems. I’ve only heard of her novels. Thanks for opening my eyes.

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  3. I love Margaret Atwood’s poems, though I first “met” her as a novelist. This one is hard to read, but timely. In Virginia, a law was just past requiring women to submit to a transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion. It is a form of rape, one I would add to Atwood’s exhibits.

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  4. Wow. I’ve read a few of Atwood’s poems, but hadn’t seen this one. Powerful and definitely disturbing. Once you get past the shock value, sadness creeps in.

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  5. Like Fats, I flinched through this. But thank you for sharing, Myra – so timely right now (sadly so). I’ve known Margaret Atwood more as a novelist than a poet – but whatever her medium, she commands it.

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  6. Myra, thank you for sharing that. Like so many of your other readers, I did not know Margaret Atwood wrote poems. That poem is powerful and heartbreaking.

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  7. Truly a poem for our times…all this horror still happens, and we are passing laws to take the women of this country back decades. This was hard to read, Myra…as truth often is.

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    • Hi Tara, I find that I also have difficulty reading a few of her novels (Handmaid’s tale, Cat’s Eye, and Alias Grace come to mind) – there are gritty realities that she puts up there on display.

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  8. I like many of Atwood’s poems (Up, You fit into me, This a Photograph of me). This one is too disturbing though.

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  9. As others say, this is so disturbing and it would be good to show others if they could only “see”, but as there are many women who rail at what they call liberal views, I’m not sure they would. Women are pushed and pulled in ways I am still astounded about, even now, so many years after the sixties when we thought it was going to just be better. Thanks Myra for such a thought provoking poem & a new look at Atwood.

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    • Hi Linda, you are right in noting about women still being pushed/pulled in various directions. Part of life’s struggles, I suppose. Character-building. Opportunities as well for rebirth and reinventing one’s self.

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  10. I admire Margaret Atwood for forcing us to look at these horrors, no matter how hard it is. The truth hurts, but perhaps knowing the truth will fuel our anger enough so that we will continue to work for women’s rights.

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