Today in 1968: Margaret Atwood schools her interviewer on the meaning of "poetry"

Asking a poet what their poetry “means” is always going to be hairy, but when a CBC radio host posed that question to Margaret Atwood in 1968, it resulted in a McLuhan-esque conversation about the nature of human thought.

Asking a poet what their poetry "means" is always going to be hairy, but when a CBC radio host posed that question to Margaret Atwood in 1968, it resulted in a McLuhan-esque conversation about the nature of human thought.

Atwood — 28 years old at the time, but already the winner of a Governor General's Award — brushes away the notion that poetry can be translated to or from prose, insisting that poetry isn't a form expression.

"One actually thinks in poetry," she says. "It's a form of thought, not a form of expression, because a form of expression means you have something separate from what's being expressed."

Host Bill McNeil, much to his disappointment, didn't end up getting a nicely packaged summary of what Atwood's poems "mean" (the question was regarding her then-new poetry collection, The Animals in that Country).

"You can't separate what I'm saying from the actual form in which it's being said," she continues.

Best non-answer ever?

The "Quiet Mata Hari" talks about her nickname and her latest collection of poems, The Animals of That Country. 3:48

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.