Margaret Atwood Reading Month: Poetry and Food #MARM

Coincidentally, I had been reading one of Margaret Atwood’s poetry books when we decided to go ahead with #MARM. I’m not a big poetry reader, but I was really taken with the poems in Morning in the Burned House (1995). Particularly the ones about a woman’s ageing father, and memories of their time together.

From Bored..

All those times I was bored

out of my mind. Holding the log

while he sawed it. Holding

the string while he measured…

(Bored while pounding stakes into the garden, while planting and weeding. Or sitting in a boat while he steered, paddled. Carrying the wood, drying the dishes.)

I could hardly wait to get

the hell out of there to

anywhere else. Perhaps though

boredom is happier. It is for dogs or

groundhogs. Now I wouldn’t be bored.

Now I would know too much.

Now I would know.


From Flowers

I sit there, watching the flowers

in their pickle jar. He is asleep, or not.

I think: He looks like a turtle.

Or: He looks erased.

But somewhere in there, at the far end of the tunnel

of pain and forgetting he’s trapped in

is the same father I knew before,

the one who carried the green canoe

over the portage, the painter trailing,

myself with the fishing rods, slipping

on the wet boulders and slapping flies.


Many of her poems tell stories, which is my favourite type of poem.


And I loved this one, titled “The Moment“…


The moment when, after many years,

of hard work and a long voyage

you stand in the centre of your room,

house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,

knowing at last how you got there,

and say, I own this,


is the same moment the trees unloose

their soft arms from around you,

the birds take back their language,

the cliffs fissure and collapse,

the air moves back from you like a wave

and you can’t breathe.


No, they whisper. You own nothing.

You were a visitor, time after time

climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.

We never belonged to you.

You never found us.

It was always the other way around.


I bought my copy of Morning in the Burned House from a book sale not long ago, and was delighted to find these treasures inside…

On the other side of the Atlantic Theater Festival ticket is the name and address of the woman who bought it (and the previous owner of the book). The address is one that is just up the street from me. The date of the event almost 5 years before we moved here. I wonder if she is still living there?



The CanLit Foodbook (1987)

This book was originally put together by Margaret Atwood as a fundraiser for the P.E.N. International Writers in Prison Programme and the Writers’ Development Trust. In Atwood’s words, “Viewed one way, it’s a civilized literary symposium on the subject of food, containing, as it does, a great many extracts selected from Canadian poetry and prose, past, present, and coast-to-coast, on the subject of some of the things people put into their mouths with a view to ingestion. Viewed another way, it’s a collection of recipes preceded by some amusing verbal shenanigans.

You can find recipes such as Pierre Berton‘s Terrific Christmas Turkey, Margaret Atwood‘s Bourbon Pecan Christmas Cake, Quick Baked Monster à la Dennis Lee, Nova Scotia Rolled Oats Brown Bread (a favourite of MA’s mother), Joyce Barkhouse‘s Pictou County Oatcakes, Brian Doyle‘s Onion Sandwich, Alice Munro‘s Maple Mousse, and Michael Ondaatje‘s Grapefruit.

The grapefruit is appropriate for poets, who can meditate on its roundness and yellowness, but also for novelists, who can describe the way the juice squirts out into your eye. Hence it is the perfect fruit for all-rounder Ondaatje, who scorns the addition of sugar.

You can find excerpts from stories, books, and poems such as this one from Robertson Davies…

After several months of abstinence, I indulged moderately in doughnuts at lunch today. It is odd that so much has been written about food without any discerning gourmet having paid an adequate tribute  to this noble confection, Beautiful to the eye, arresting to the tooth, and ravishing to the palate; fit for the table of a Lucullus, and yet capable of being prepared in the humblest peasant’s abode; made from the simplest ingredients and yet a challenge to the art of the subtlest chef; delicious at bedtime and superb in the picnic or “al fresco” repast; adequate to the needs of the famished ploughman yet tempting to the vacillating appetite of the queasy convalescent, the doughnut rises above all common foods with the effortless superiority of a Rhodes Scholar trying the entrance examinations of an Infant Class. —Robertson Davies, Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks

And, of course, one from Margaret Atwood…

She took the cake off the sill, felt it to see if it was cool enough, and put it on the kitchen table. Then she began to operate. With the two forks she pulled it in half through the middle. One half she placed flat side down on the platter. She scooped out part of it and made a head with the section she had taken out. Then she nipped in a waist at the sides. The other half she pulled into strips for the arms and legs. The spongy cake was pliable, easy to mold. She stuck all the separate members together with white icing, and used the rest of the icing to cover the shape she had constructed. It was bumpy in places and had too many crumbs in the skin, but it would do.  —Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman

I have loved discovering gems like this, and like the children’s books I read, that I might not normally have dug up. Have you discovered anything new-to-you this month?  

25 thoughts on “Margaret Atwood Reading Month: Poetry and Food #MARM

    • Naomi says:

      The whole poem just made me say, yes, yes, yes! But it was too long to include the whole thing.
      And it made me sad for the children growing up now who won’t have nearly as many of those “boring” moments in their lives.

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I binged on Atwood’s poems some years back (maybe 2008 or 9?) with the volume Eating Fire: Selected Poetry 1965-1995. I have to say that none of it really stuck with me, but I think reading a bunch at once was a bad idea. I’d be better off revisiting individual collections and reading them slowly as bedside books. How fortuitous to have found a signed copy! Will you knock on the door of the former owner? 🙂

    I love the look of the Can Lit cookbook. Atwood’s Christmas cake sounds yummy. I am just trying to imagine the onion sandwich (vile!)…

    • buriedinprint says:

      I often think of you now when I am cutting up onions (or garlic) and noticing how much gets into my skin so I can only imagine how horrifying you must find the idea of this sandwich. Raised on peanut-butter-and-onion sandwiches, it just sounds yummy to me! (I think other people would have meat instead of nut butter *shrugs*!)

      • Rebecca Foster says:

        Oh dear, sorry I put that consideration in your mind! I use my special chopper for onion and garlic these days, so I mostly don’t have to touch it with my hands. But I always avoid raw onion (which I presume this would be) on sandwiches and salads.

      • Naomi says:

        We were raised on peanut butter and lettuce! Or if there was no lettuce in the house… cucumber, cabbage, carrot… but never onion. I will have to tell my dad to try it!

    • Naomi says:

      Some of the recipes included are kind of funny or strange. Even Ondaatje’s grapefruit is just a grapefruit, with instructions to cut it into sections. Ha! But that’s part of what makes it fun.

      I tried looking the woman up to see if she still lives there, but it wasn’t clear. I don’t know if I have the nerve. BUT, my next-door neighbour used to live on that same street, so I think I will ask her!

  2. Debbie Rodgers @Exurbanis says:

    I love that CanLit cookbook. I bought it in ’87 and had it on my shelves until the second book cull last year. I was donating to a local used book shop/tea room and thought perhaps to share it with another reader who would delight in it.

    I do like this poetry! Perhaps I’ll borrow a volume from the library and ease into Atwood that way.

  3. buriedinprint says:

    OH, yes, please do go and knock on her door: that’s just too delightful!
    The new-to-me are the various small bits that I’ve posted about on twitter, the comic strips and introductions, essays on subjects like favourite books and writing advice.
    When you look up an author’s name in the library catalogue, all these weird little one-offs come up and normally I overlook them and choose the item I was searching for, but this month I borrowed a bunch of odd MA bits and quite enjoyed the variety.

    • Naomi says:

      And there’s so much more than I ever imagined. I’m so glad we get to do it again next year – because one thing just leads to the next.

      Maybe I will knock on her door AFTER speaking with my neighbour. I’m hoping she will know her!

  4. annelogan17 says:

    The canlit cookbook needs to be revived-perhaps a second volume should be published? I think projects like this could bring the canlit community back together after all the sniping that has been going on between the authors these days. Just send in your recipe and be done with it!

  5. wadholloway says:

    My favourite sandwich is peanut butter, honey and sultanas (and alfalfa or mung beans if I have any). From reading detective fiction I thought doughnuts was all Americans ate. I used to like them but I find them too greasy and sweet in my old age. My kids don’t like football, but they used to come to games with me just for the hot jam donuts – a Melbourne, Australia thing probably.

    I don’t read poetry if I can help it, but it was easy to picture Atwood’s childhood. My own father would say “stay out of the way William, you’re just here for moral support.”

    • Naomi says:

      That’s a good line from your father – moral support is good, too. 🙂

      Americans do eat a lot of doughnuts. But I don’t actually consider most of the ones you get at doughnut shops *real* doughnuts. I like the homemade kind.

      Your peanut butter sandwich sounds delicious. Raisins go well with peanut butter. What about peanut butter and banana – another staple at my house?

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