A Woman’s Issue

‘A Woman’s Issue’ is a poem by Margaret Atwood which focuses on Atwood’s negative opinion of rape and abuse in war. The poem is split into 6 stanzas, giving four different gruesome images and then ending on a reflection. The poem is spoken as if someone is describing objects in a museum, “Exhibit A”. This conveys the fact that in some cultures women are objectified by men. The language is very simple and blunt, almost emotionless, so that anyone can read it and understand Atwood’s message. The blunt language could almost be seen as scientific and emotionless to show that men do not have sympathy for the women they rape, “The ones that die are carefully buried.” . Through this poem Atwood questions whether wars are fought for sex, “Is this why wars are fought?”.

The title immediately makes the reader think. 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.

Atwood uses grotesque descriptions to describe the abuse the girls received, “the spiked device”. The main device that makes these descriptions so graphic are the verbs; “jammed”, “scrape”, these show the pain that the women went through. As well as this the women are de-humanised, referred to as ‘exhibits’, they are objects there for man’s pleasing, “Men like tight women.”

Another device that Atwood uses is the use of ambiguous language. Atwood refers to a woman with “a net window”, probably referring to a veil, yet also conjures up images of being trapped in a net, a metaphor for women being trapped in their gender, not able to reach their full potential. The fifth stanza has lots of ambiguous language in it, comparing war to rape, and birth to death, “no man’s land to be entered furtively”, “doctor’s rubber gloves greasy with blood, flesh made inert”. The whole of the fifth stanza is a reflection on the fact that all these things are due to what is “between the legs”, and Atwood questions whether sex is “why wars are fought”.

The last stanza reveals that “This is no museum,”. Until now we assume that these horrific acts are tales of history, and yet Atwood now reminds us that these things still happen today. This is one of the main messages of the poem, that rape and abuse in war still occurs today, and that “love” is not part of it.

Thanks for reading,

Jack

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Poet vs Poet (A title that sounds like a Cheesy educational TV Show)

The writing styles of Margaret Atwood and Carol Ann Duffy are very different yet both very recognisable. In this piece of writing I will attempt to convey their writing styles to you.

Atwood

Margaret Atwood mainly talks about women’s rights in a variety of forms, and whether it be rape, abortion, education or voice they all share common features.

The main device that Atwood uses throughout almost all of her poetry is that of grotesque imagery. Most of the poems of hers that I have read include at least one snapshot of a gruesome story, using graphic images, “punctured herself with kitchen skewers”. The main device that makes these descriptions so vivid is the use of graphic verbs, “scrape”, “jammed”,”ripped”. Aswell as this these words are slightly onomatopoeic which gives the reader a sound to associate with their mental image. 

Another feature of Atwood’s poetry is her use of punctuation. Throughout most of her poetry the punctuation is sparse and enjambment is heavily used. In “Christmas Carols” Atwood mainly starts sentences in the middle of lines to give a theme that the topic still goes on today, not only being held in the past. Despite the enjambment Atwood always capitalises at the beginning of each line.

 

Duffy

I personally haven’t read much of Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry, yet the two poems I have read, “Havisham” and “Valentines” both have similar techniques used. Both are on the topic of love but have contrasting stances. “Havisham” is about a woman in an unhappy marriage, whereas “Valentines” is about a woman who wants to find the right way to express her love – albeit in an unconventional way.

A main feature in “Havisham” is enjambment, with sentences running over lines both within stanzas and even over stanzas giving the whole poem a disjointed feeling, just like the marriage that is obviously not due to love, “hate behind a white veil;”. Duffy, in contrast to Atwood, doesn’t capitalise the beginning of a line unless it’s the beginning of a sentence. Duffy uses punctuation less sparsely than Atwood, “slewed mirror, full length, her, myself,” and also uses very short sentences to emphasise a point, “Take it.”.

Duffy also uses specific semantic fields, for example in “Valentines” she uses the semantic field of love; “possessive and faithful”. As well as this she uses onomatopeia, “Bang”, this can have different effects, surprising the reader, or even recreating sounds, such as “the heart that b-b-b-breaks”. The extended ‘b’s replicate the sound of a heartbeat.

Defining Margaret Atwood…

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,
Jack