The power of words #3


April 10th, 2018   •   no comments   

This post is inspired by the poem ‘Spelling’ by Margaret Atwood, one of the writers I admire most. While she uses spelling as a metaphor for the power so often denied to women, the quote about words themselves as a source of power resonates on many levels. Read the poem in its entirety below.

Margaret Atwood is a leading Canadian poet, short story writer, novelist, critic and environmental activist. A prolific writer, she is celebrated as the author of works from Surfacing (1972) to the Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and Alias Grace (1996). Feminist ideals are at the heart of her work.

Spelling

My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
spelling,
how to make spells.

I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child.
there is no either/or.
However.

I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.

Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.

A word after a word
after a word is power.

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.

This is a metaphor.

How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.

–Margaret Atwood

 

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