October 2007

Arts & Letters

‘The Door’ by Margaret Atwood

By Greg McLaren

In predicting that “Time will curve like a wind,” the speaker in ‘One Day You Will Reach ...’ hints at the flow and architecture of this new book of poetry, Margaret Atwood’s first in more than ten years. There is a controlled fury at work in the most powerful of these poems: those concerned with history, politics and, in a familiar Atwoodian voice, those toying with the idea of being prophetic. This mode drives the compositions as they dip into the past or roam a near future that is oddly familiar.

The elegiac tone that whispers through many of these poems is tinged with anger, frustration, dismay and guilt (“Did we cause this wreckage by breathing?”). Loss, here, is a piercing, raw sensation. It always has lasting implications, as in ‘Butterfly’: “the brown meandering river / he was always in some way after that / trying in vain to get back to”. Nothing is secure; everything passes, a series of “pure mementoes / of some once indelible day”. The present and future, because their meaning is undecided, are laden more heavily than the past with gothic undertones and preoccupations. Yet the present seems always about to topple into the past, and there is nothing that long history does not eventually swallow: “We feel everything hovering / on the verge of becoming itself.”

Where this somewhat overlong collection shows its flaws is in the numerous poems that merely repeat themselves or, worse, others. That said, where its focus remains tight, The Door feels sharper and more purposeful than its predecessor, Morning in the Burned House. There is a sense also of a rounding-off of a body of work. As Atwood prepares to mourn a world that is, her poems suggest, at a historical crossroads, her best writing retains a penetrating, self-questioning intelligence that sees clearly and asks itself the right questions. One of the finest poems, ‘The Valley of Heretics’, is compelling in its obliqueness, even as it echoes the sentiment found throughout The Door. It is aware, sorrowful, respectful of otherness: “we breathe them in / with unease, a sense of foreboding: / their ashes are everywhere.”

From the front page

Image of US President Joe Biden meeting virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, November 15, 2021. Image © Susan Walsh / AP Photo

The avoidable war

Kevin Rudd on China, the US and the forces of history

cartoon:In light of recent events

In light of recent events

Who’s preferencing whom?

Detail of cover of Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

Ghost notes: Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

A virtuoso memoir of music and trauma, and his experiences as a child prodigy, from the acclaimed Australian pianist

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaking during the first leaders’ debate on April 20, 2022. Image © Jason Edwards / AAP Images

Election special: Who should you vote for?

Undecided about who to vote for in the upcoming federal election? Take our quiz to find out your least-worst option!

In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Billy Hughes & Woodrow Wilson

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Caveat emptor

‘The Book is Dead: Long Live the Book’ by Sherman Young

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The flatbed scanner of democracy


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Steve Toltz

The quip and the dead: Steve Toltz’s ‘Here Goes Nothing’

A bleakly satirical look at death and the afterlife from the wisecracking author of ‘A Fraction of the Whole’

Detail of cover of Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

Ghost notes: Simon Tedeschi’s ‘Fugitive’

A virtuoso memoir of music and trauma, and his experiences as a child prodigy, from the acclaimed Australian pianist

Still from ‘Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood’

One small step: ‘Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood’ and ‘Deep Water’

Richard Linklater’s rotoscoped film evokes the optimism of late-1960s America, while Patricia Highsmith’s thriller gets another disappointing adaptation

Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori, ‘Dibirdibi country’ (2008

Art heist: The landmark conviction of an Aboriginal art centre’s manager

The jailing of Mornington Island Art’s chief executive for dishonest dealing has shone a light on ethics and colonialism in the Indigenous art world


More in Noted

Cover of Robert Lukins’ ‘Loveland’

‘Loveland’

Robert Lukins’ second novel takes a Brisbane woman to Nebraska, where an inheritance sparks a change in character as well as in fortune

Still from ‘We Own This City’

‘We Own This City’

David Simon, creator of ‘The Wire’, returns to Baltimore for a present-day examination of rapacious police corruption

Still from ‘Slow Horses’

‘Slow Horses’

A sardonic Gary Oldman heads a misfit branch of MI5 in Apple TV+’s thrilling exploration of personal motivation and political expedience

Image from ‘The Golden Cockerel’

‘The Golden Cockerel’

Barrie Kosky’s Adelaide production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera satirising the Russo-Japanese War came with uneasy resonances


Online exclusives

Image of US President Joe Biden meeting virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, November 15, 2021. Image © Susan Walsh / AP Photo

The avoidable war

Kevin Rudd on China, the US and the forces of history

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese speaking during the first leaders’ debate on April 20, 2022. Image © Jason Edwards / AAP Images

Election special: Who should you vote for?

Undecided about who to vote for in the upcoming federal election? Take our quiz to find out your least-worst option!

Image of the Stone of Remembrance at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Remembrance or forgetting?

The Australian War Memorial and the Great Australian Silence

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, Labor MP Emma McBride and shadow housing minister Jason Clare after meeting with young renter Lydia Pulley during a visit to her home in Gosford on May 3, 2022. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Property damage

What will it take for Australia to fix the affordable housing crisis?