Today I read three Margaret Atwood poems, ‘Spelling’, ‘Christmas Carols’ and ‘A Woman’s Issue’.
These three poems all have the same overall theme, mistreatment of women and rape in war. Aswell as this they all use similar features (not surprising as they’re all written by the same writer).
The titles are used cleverly in all three poems. The use of the word “Issue” in the title ‘A Woman’s Issue’ is a homonym, the phrase ‘a woman’s issue’ in medieval times was used to mean a woman’s time of the month, but the word ‘issue’ means a problem. This automatically makes the reader assume that the fact that women get pregnant is a problem.
The title ‘Christmas Carols’ has connotations with festive times and joy, though the poem is much more serious. Throughout the poem there are references to Christmas, and the constant reminder that children are not always “holy”, and they don’t always mean good things, a direct references to unwanted pregnancies due to rape.
“Children don’t always mean hope. To some they mean despair.”
Later on in ‘Christmas Carols’ they also reference Mary, the mother of Jesus, another association with Christmas, “the magic mother, in blue and white,”. In my opinion Atwood could be drawing a comparison between the raped pregnant women and the pregnant Mary, both of whom were not pregnant by choice, though this comparison is quickly removed as Mary is described as “distinct” from those who aren’t as “perfect and intact” as her, “everyone else”.
Atwood uses very grotesque language and graphic imagery to emphasise how badly the women are treated, “…her pelvis broken by hammers”. Atwood especially uses graphic verbs to give the reader a sense of how much pain is inflicted by ‘the enemy’, “punctured”, “scrape”. This makes the reader have sympathy for the women. This kind of language contrasts with the almost scientific, blunt language used when describing women as ‘exhibits’. This objectifies the women and makes them sound disposable, just playthings for the men. In all of these poems men are referenced negatively, “eighty men a night” rape one girl – which shows how girls were treated as nothing.
The poem ‘A Woman’s Issue’ uses a lot of ambiguous language, used to describe both rape and war at the same time, “No man’s land, to be entered furtively,” aswell as death and childbirth, “doctor’s rubber gloves greasy with blood,” – this shows how war was intertwined with rape, rape was a normal thing to do to the enemy during war.
Margaret Atwood makes the reader empathise with the victims of these horrific war crimes which is what I think makes her poems so poignant, she evokes emotion, which is her greatest tool in conveying her opinion to the reader.
Thanks for reading,