Never mind the fact that all the really stirring poems I’d read at that time had been about slaughter, mayhem, sex and death—poetry was thought of as existing in the pastel female realm, along with embroidery and flower arranging.

This quotation comes from a speech Atwood delivered at Hay-on-Wye, Wales, in June 1995. Atwood’s poems deal with bloody themes—rape, murder, decay—that are impossible to lump into the “pastel female realm.” From the beginning of her career as a poet, Atwood seems to have been determined to eschew “embroidery and flower arranging” and all of the female complacency those activities implied. She set out to prove that even a diminutive Canadian girl could write about “slaughter, mayhem, sex and death,” and in this she has fully succeeded. As she points out, her favorite topics are violent and previously thought of as “masculine,” and she incorporates them into her poetry without making concessions to what may be expected of her as a woman writer.

Popular pages: Margaret Atwood’s Poetry