The Door.


128 pages
ISBN 978-0-7710-0880-1
DDC C811'.54




Reviewed by Douglas Barbour

Douglas Barbour is a professor of English at the University of Alberta.
He is the author of Lyric/anti-lyric : Essays on Contemporary Poetry,
Breath Takes, and Fragmenting Body Etc.


Margaret Atwood, poet, is back. Despite her international reputation as a novelist, it is as a poet that she shines brightest. The Door moves into some new territory—old age, the approach of death—while renewing old visions of war, loss, human corruption, and ecological degradation. Divided into five sections, it begins with poems that appear to be autobiographical lyric narratives, but Atwood’s “I” is sneaky, dissimulating, and many of the poems address a “you” all too apparently the reader, or just humanity doing its worst, as usual.


As one moves further into The Door, one finds poems that are both smart and snarky in their slapstick philosophy (or theology), ranging through history and legend to remind us of just how terrible humans can be to one another. There is pity here, a grace note that touches the readerly heart, but the savage, always open, eye of the poet refuses to blink, even as the poems admit that that is what we want to do, confronted with the evidence of our own failures.


For individuals, “You wanted what / was coming to you. / (Death / is, though. Ridiculous. And coming to you. / For us too. / Justice is what we’ll turn into. / Then there’s mercy.)” For all of us, there’s the oracle, who says “That’s what I do: / I tell dark stories / before and after they come true.” Atwood practises what we might call cognitive gothic—little stories in verse that turn into darkness at the end too quickly to be evaded. And evasion is what her poems battle against with their wit, their sly passion, and their intense articulation of an awareness all too sensitive to human frailty, desire, perception, and inward loss.


The Door offers readers a poetry that seems clear and straightforward, mostly carefully constructed sentences with line breaks that subtly emphasize meaning or emotion. But the darkness awaits, just below the surface, the metaphors suddenly bite, and the reader awakens, again, trying to find some light. At its best, it’s Atwood at her best.


Atwood, Margaret., “The Door.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,