Alana Mairs

Margaret Atwood: Trying Something New

The day before I went to see Margaret Atwood read and launch The Year of the Flood at the St. Andrews-Wesley Church on Burrard, I discovered that she was on Twitter, and had mixed emotions about this.

My first introduction to Atwood came at 16, when I read Power Politics. That collection of poems remains a constant on my bookshelf today and profoundly influenced my opinion of what poetry is, does, and can be. So the transition from: "Take off the signatures, the false / bodies, this love / which does not fit you" (from 'Hesitations Outside the Door', Power Politics) to "Did naughty Mr. Tweet send my recom. to everyone? I told him no!" (from @MargaretAtwood on Oct. 2) is not one I welcomed.

I knew that the event on Thursday would include singing, and I knew that Atwood was "reinventing the book launch", but I wanted to go to the reading with no expectations, so I didn't read any reviews or articles (and won't until this blog post is finished). However, I didn't go completely expection-free. I wanted the hairs on my arm to stand up. I wanted to look at the backs of the heads in front of me and not care they were blocking my view because the singing and reading would transcend me somewhere greater. I wanted to get lost in Atwood's words, the way I do when I read one of her books.

Having seen concerts at St. Andrews-Wesley before, I knew how vast the space inside can feel, with its high vaulted ceilings and stone columns, but I'd also experienced intimate moments of acoustic holiness there, even sitting in the far back. But what I felt the most on Thursday night was the hard wooden pew beneath my body. I felt disconnected from the singers, who sang "hymns" which bordered on cutesy/irritating, and longed for more candid moments with Atwood herself. After craning my neck for the first half of the hour-long performance, I ended up closing my eyes to imagine the world which the three other readers, the musicians, and Atwood were trying to create from The Year of the Flood.

I never expected to see Atwood singing/pretending-to-sing for the final hymn of the night, her arm slung around one of the singers, in an awkward sort of musical finale which part of the audience clapped along to for a while, before they realized the length of the song.

For me, the best part of the night was Atwood's unscripted answers at the too-brief question and answer period after the reading/musical interludes had ended. I liked the way she shrugged her shoulders unassumingly as she delivered dead-pan responses. I liked her answer to whether technology is an aid or a detriment to humanity; that it's neutral, and, like a hammer, can be either a tool or a weapon depending on its use. I thought of Twitter, which can be either a one-sided experiment in stalking or a way to interact with others and share information. Maybe I am okay that @MargaretAtwood exists, then (if it is indeed her behind this account). But I'm not going to follow her.



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