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Albert MobilioThe autobiographies of a famous Canadian pioneer woman served as the inspiration for Margaret Atwood's newly reissued 1970 book of poems, The Journals of Susanna Moodie. As an English immigrant to the backwoods north of Toronto in the 1830s, Moodie struggled to accept the bleak and often deadly landscape of her new country. Her resistance and eventual acceptance embodies, according to Atwood, a distinctly Canadian "violent duality." In exploring the contradictory heart of her national identity, Atwood also came to see an inchoate feminism in Moodie's "thin refusal" to rejoice in the "long hills, the swamps, the barren sand."
In "The Wereman," Atwood's Moodie watches her husband stride off into the forest and she wonders "unheld by my sight/what does he change into." When he returns, "he may change me also/with the fox eye, the owl/eye, the eightfold eye of the spider/I can't think/what he will see/when he opens the door." The metaphor of marriage as a wilderness in which shapes shift and uncertainty reigns is both inspired and apt to Moodie's historical circumstance -- a time when near strangers often married.
By ventriloquizing the reluctant frontierswoman -- "I am a word/in a foreign language" -- Atwood fuses the interior and exterior landscapes (the personal and political) with a low-key yet vibratory elegance. This slip-cased reprint, with deliciously spooky illustrations by Charles Pachter, is a model of printed art -- the high-energy jostling of text and imagery creates a lush detonation that obliterates the slightly over-earnest scent that can cling to these poems in starker circumstance.