Saturday, 19 November 2011

What is it Good For?

06:14:00 Posted by Ashley Lister 5 comments
War Photo
Margaret Attwood

The dead woman thrown down on the dusty road
is very beautiful.
One leg extended, the other flexed, foot pointed
toward the knee, the arm flung overhead, the hand
relaxed into a lovely gesture
a dancer might well study for years
and never attain.
Her purple robe is shaped
as if it’s fluttering;
her head is turned away.

There are other dead people scattered around
like trees blown over,
left in the wake of frightened men
battering their way to some huge purpose
they can’t now exactly remember,

‘War Photo’, The Door, Margaret Attwood

These are only the opening two stanzas to Margaret Attwood’s poem. The remainder of the poem is equally powerful blending the vivid descriptive detail with the opaque rationale of the background. I’ve only copied the first two stanzas here because:

1) It’s wrong to copy the entirety of a living poet’s work without permission and:

2) I think these stanzas say enough on their own.

I thank whatever God controls my destiny for the good fortune that I have never had to endure the horrors of living through a war. I’m a person who dry heaves whilst picking up dogshit from the backyard. I am such an innate pacifist I couldn’t properly play Duck Hunt on Ash Jr’s SNES back in the 1990s - not unless it was switched clay-pigeon-mode. Consequently the atrocities of carnage, decimation and misery that could be brought on from living through a war scare me more than I can honestly confide.

Attwood’s poem paints a heartbreaking image of a single death, which makes me think of Stalin’s maxim: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.

And I know Attwood is writing about this subject with a passion and a solemnity and a poetic truth that I could never invest in this topic. At its best, I know my attempts at war poetry would be little better than this:



Lindsay said...

I reckon we should invite Tony Robinson to to those poems at DGPS one month.


Lara Clayton said...

Attwood's poem is amazing, but then I love Attwood (both her prose and her poetry). She really does have the ability to haunt a reader's mind with slow building and evocative lines.
'This is a Photograph of Me' is probably one of my favourite poems - definitely in the top ten.

Great post :)

Ashley R Lister said...


The German Guns remains one of my favourite war poems, although this is only because I can remember all the words.


Ashley R Lister said...


I've read two or three of Attwood's books and thoroughly enjoyed them. I'm now working my way through 'The Door' and marvelling that I haven't read more of her work.


Lara Clayton said...

Ash: If you like 'The Door' then you definitely need to read her first collection, 'The Circle Game'. It is slightly more edgy, with voices that are a beautiful mix of wit and vulnerability.