When I was teaching I was always on the look out for poems for my students; despite themselves they liked poetry (and many of them wrote it which was wonderful!) However, because it was an English lesson, and because none of them thought they wanted to be there, there was terrific resistance. I didn’t always choose short poems, but quite often I did… but I’d chooses short poems that were multi-layered and open to many different ways of understanding them.
This poem by Margaret Atwood always provoked a great reaction, there were always arguments about what it meant and so it was open to the students – and I think that was the key for my young people, whatever we read had to be open, open to them taking it and understanding it and working with it and maybe even using it.
As a side, I actually don’t like Margaret Atwood’s work; I have read a couple of her books and struggled to finish them and then I went to hear her speak in St George’s Hall Bristol, a wonderful venue but a most disappointing evening; I wasn’t won over!
So here we have it, this is a photograph of me
This is a photograph of me
It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;
Then as you scan
it, you see in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.
In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.
(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.
I am in the lake, in the centre
of the picture, just under the surface.
It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or small I am:
the effect of the water
on light is a distortion
But if you look long enough
you will be able to see me).
by Margaret Atwood