One moment [Silence.].. problem that we have here at Sir George. We did try to get a larger hall but it was impossible. To accommodate the overflow, we have set up loud speakers in the little gallery here, Howard [Fink], and in the other one too?
Outside, there are loud speakers. So please don't all crowd into the room. If you are going to lean against the paintings, we shall never be able to get this room again for poetry readings. Because this, this is a gallery which belongs to the Fine Arts department, we had great difficulty getting it, these paintings are very precious, particularly to the artists themselves [laughter.] I would ask you please to stay away from the paintings[distortion from mic.] That must have been the artist. [laughter.] We are also waiting for the arrival of someone else, so please be patient. Howard-- [laughter] can you ask the security people to turn on the cooling system, the hall is going to be too hot.
Talking from audience
We may get 927 [audience reaction]
What do you mean, we may, I think they're also- okay. What would you like to do? Let us stay here or move?
Audience says "Stay here".
Okay, with the people, there are some people who are at the back of the door, there is some space up here at the front if you'd like to come up.
Audience talk, someone says "No more than ten"
About ten. It'll make more room at the back too. [audience is moving, talking quietly.] If everybody on the chairs would shift over this way, um, and sit on, sort of as if it were a bench, then some more people can sit on the edge there. And just move the chairs all that way. Move the rows forward. They're all shifting over anyway. Could you all move your chairs forward to make the rows as close together as possible. Okay, it's alright. [Audience is moving chairs, Margaret talks to people in the background.]
That is- hello, [inaudible] outside and you might be more comfortable if you went out and listened over the speakers, some of the people are really jammed in there. I don't see any reason why this thing should resemble a steam bath, for all of us. If you're-- what? what? [audience member says something inaudible] I don't think I can, what is it that they do? [laughter.]
[Laughing] Miss Atwood has just upstaged the introducer. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. It's not often that an artist excels in two medium such as poetry and fiction as our guest tonight does. Miss Atwood's reputation as a superior poet was established in the 60's with her first collections, The Circle Game and The Animals in that Country. And while continuing to write fine poetry, six major collections to date, she's given us two novels in the last five years, The Edible Woman and Surfacing. With the second novel, published late in 1972, within a few months of a controversial work of criticism, Margaret Atwood became one of Canada's best known literary artists. The hypothesis of Survival, a study of patterns in Canadian lit is that Canadians see themselves as victims. I was remind of Survival recently when I came across a nineteenth-century curiosity written by one John McTaggart. It was a book published in London in 19- excuse me- 1829. McTaggart wrote "There's a melancholy which is peculiar to Canadians which must be combatted. People who labor under it must be encouraged, the soothing language, good treatment and now and then as circumstances require, a little assistance gratis as a stimulant." McTaggart's third point about the helpful effects of a little assistance as a recent theory has been taken up by the Canada Council, to whom we are in part in debbted for her appearance tonight. Margaret Atwood's work constitues an exploration of what it means to be a Canadian, to be a woman and to be a human being. She writes about our totems, our tapestry of manners, our progressive insanities. She taught at Sir George in 67-68, and it's a great pleasure to have her return to us tonight. After her reading, she'll be open to questions from the audience. Ladies and gentlemen, Margaret Atwood.
Let's see now, if the mic starts to get funny, let me know. [Audience member shouts something.] Too loud? Not too loud, I'm afraid it isn't a very good mic and also I'm afraid I'm going to have to hold it the whole time which is a bore. I don't think it'll work very well, is that better? Does that work? Higher? Lower? Okay, how's that? Okay, I'm going to read entirely from my new book which is called "This is"-- oh, what is it called? [laughter.] It's called "You are Happy". Somebody who has been photographing me says that a friend of hers was in a bookstore and picked out this book and thought at first that this was one of these "I'm Okay, You're Okay" books. Until I saw who wrote it. [laughter.] But it has a happy ending, you'll be pleased to know. And I'm going to begin at the beginning and end at the end. Skipping portions along the way. I'm also going to make this reading fairly short because we are all in this rather constricted situation. I used to tell people when people in the States used to ask me 'do you live in an igloo' and other questions like that, I used to think to myself that being a Canadian was sort of like living in a chicken coop in the middle of the desert. That everybody was all together in one place but there are these huge spaces around. I wish that we had been provided with one of them. [Laughter.] I have a chicken coop, and you're nicer. But there are more of you. I think we will all have to be very, very patient, unlike the chickens. I'm going to begin by reading a poem called "Newsreel, Man and Firing Squad".
Reads "Newsreel, Man and Firing Squad".
This is-- the image in this next poem comes from, begins with the fact that I have a sheep and one of them died. The poem is called "November".
"Tricks with Mirrors". How are you doing? Is it hot and steamy? Has anybody died yet?
Reads "Tricks with Mirrors".
This is the title poem, "You are Happy".
Reads "You are Happy".
Reads "First Prayer".
"Is/Not". Oh boy, is it ever hot in here. I can't stand it. Light. I wonder if we could-- well, then I can't see, you see. I wonder if we could turn off- would it be better if we turn off those lights that are grilling you over there. I could what? [Audience member suggests something.] Where's the light switch anyway? Howard, turn off the lights? Well, maybe in a few minutes the lights will go off. Where did-[CUT] Hooray, wonderful. Actually, there's a light under here. It's like the Saturday movies. No, I can read with this, yeah. Maybe I'll just read a little something else here, because it's the Saturday Movies.
Reads unknown poem, first line "You take my hand and I'm suddenly in a bad movie..." [Laughter.]
And since we were talking about the war between Superman and Captain Marvel at dinner, my favourite was Plastic Man, but that was an esoteric taste. I'll read this one.
Reads "They Eat Out".
I go to- I can't resist this. This is from the new book, it's called "Siren Song". Students of Seventeenth Century Literature are always asking themselves and each other, what song the sirens sang, and this is the ultimate answer.
Reads "Siren Song".
The imminent critic, Allen Pearson, who was once known when he lived in Montreal as the Montreal Poet, now that he lives in Toronto, he's probably known as the Toronto Poet, says the following: "Siren Song tells how boring it is for a woman to be obliged to attract men by appealing to them for help". [Laughter.] Um, since I'm on the subject of people in capes and costumes, I'll read [CUT-- poem starts mid-sentence]
[Recording is CUT and begins again mid-sentence in a poem] line "The heads of eagles no longer interest me...." Last line "They would rather be trees".
Reads "Is Not".
I think I'd better read just three more poems, before we all die. The first one is called "There is Only One of Everything".
Reads "There is Only One of Everything".
Reads "Late August".
This is the last poem, called "Book of Ancestors".
Reads "Book of Ancestors". [Applause after reading.]
Thank you, it's really not so hot if you sit still. Miss Atwood is prepared to discuss, for a little while.
If you would like to, uh, I can't see a thing of course, I can sort of see hands if you stick them up and wave them around. Would that be better than turning back on the lights which I'd prefer not to do?
There's no way we can get mics in the audience, so please speak loudly.
I see a hand.
Audience #1 (female)
How did your nick name of a witch get originated?
How did my nickname of a witch? Are you referring to the speech I gave the other night at Loyola? Oh, it's, I was talking about a couple of reviews, that seemed to credit me with having these supernatural powers, you know, the ability to hypnotize my readers and things like that, and what I was saying was that in fact I don't in fact posess the powers of hypnotism or I'd use them on my bank manager and be quite rich. Um, I was talking about a pattern that seems to crop up from time to time in a certain kind of review usually written by men. [Laughter.] I heard that there were a couple of people in the audience at Loyola who before the speech, were convinced that I was a witch and that I was going to talk about witchcraft, and when I said that I wasn't one, they left. [Laughter.] You see, if I were a witch, I wouldn't be able to wear the cross. So that's how you can tell I'm not. Wards off vampires.
Audience #2 (male)
Um, [inaudble] and as well as the Edible Woman, I seem to get this idea of an emergence from greyness, or darkness and I was wondering if it's through this emergence from greyness that you have any reference to Blake in his emergence from chaos.
I'll be very flattered, if I did. I'm afraid I suffer by the comparison. I think that you're right in spotting it, I think I would say that it's more like this, that if you want to think in terms of colour, that you start with a grey, and then you go down. Down into, well, it depends on the poem or the book or whatever of what's happening in your life. And, but you have to go down before you come up again otherwise you stay just in the grey part. If you want a real pattern for this, it's Dante's Inferno, where the man starts in a wandering wood, you know he starts in a kind of state of being lost, and then he goes down into hell. The further down he goes the more tortured souls he sees, but when he gets right to the bottom he finds that he's going up again. And then he comes out the other side.
Audience #2 (male)
Yeah, but, [inaudible] other side-ness in the Edible Woman you come up through colours, a very [inaudible] of colours and I was wondering if this is the complete emergence of man?
Not complete- I would say no, no beginning.
Audience #2 (male)
[Inaudible] complete- into his universal aspect, but into an emergence of man. Into the colours of life.
Your choice of the word 'man' is interesting. Since the heroine is a woman. [Laughter and applause.] Um, I think you have the pattern right. I wouldn't like to attach any sort of universal meaning to it.
Audience #2 (male)
No I'm not attaching a universal meaning, I'm attaching more or less a universal meaning to the colour of darkness or greyness.
No, that's right, you're correct. Yes.
Audience #2 (male)
I'm not trying to explicit a universal meaning into these colours, this is where you're taking it wrong.
Well, I'm not too sure what we're talking about to tell you the truth. You've spotted a correct pattern and I'm not too sure how one interprets it because I don't like to be the critic of my own work in a way if you know what I mean. Yes.
Audience #3 (male)
I know you're writing a screen play for [Inaudible.] Will it ever become a film?
Will it ever? Let's see now, I finished it at the end of July. Now, what is-- the stages of making a film are these: first somebody takes out an auction[option?] on it, which means they pay you X dollars to have the sole right to try to make the movie for a certain period of time. If they fail to make it to renew the auction or to require the rights at the end of that period, you get it back and you can then sell it to anybody else or back to them if you want. That's different from buying the rights which means they've got it. And you can't get it back. An option has been taken out, a script has been written. They are now doing whatever it is they do, who knows. To try to put together what is called a package that is, they try to interest a director or they pick out a director and they try to put a director together with a script together with some money. And that's all going on, I don't know what's happening with it because they don't tell. Yes.
Audience #4 (female)
Are those people American or Canadian?
These people are. [Laughter.] Once upon a time there was an English Canadian film industry. Not very hard. I mean it's trying very hard but not many results are being had. And I wanted very much to make Surfacing in Canada with Canadian everything, but I was about two years too late. And also Canadians are quite timmerus about this book because they said 'well, it'll never be able to sell a film in the States' because of all that strange American symbolism in it. They- the two people I'm working with are two American independent producers, not to be confused with MGM, who want to make the book as it is, that is, they like the book, they want to be faithful to it, they don't want to transport it to Maine or wherever and make it into an American film, which of course you couldn't do without ruining the symbolic pattern. They want to make it in Canada, they want to put in all that stuff because they say 'wow, dynamite'. [Laughter.] They're not worried about selling it in the States. So that's how we're proceeding right now and we have not yet had a falling out on any of the crucial matters such as what's in the screen play. And so that's been fine. They would like to make it here. And what stage they're at right now I don't know. Now if they don't put it together, then I get it back and then I have another go. And I'll try it round Canada again, once more, and I'll probably with the same results--
Audience #4 (female)
You have tried?
Oh yes, everybody tries. I've written four or five screen plays, none of them have been made. They've all been for Canadians. One thing has happened, I got one television play done, but of course everything you do for the CBC pretty well gets done. [Laughter.] As you know. I wrote a screen play for Edible Woman, that didn't get done. I wrote one for Marie Claire Blais, “Mad Shadows”, we had high hopes for that, that was a Canadian director, Canadian producer all the rest of it. No deal. Film development corporations said it wasn't commercial enough. I mean, you don't go outside before you've been through it for a while. It's a problem that novelists used to face when trying to get their novels published here.
I'd like to ask a question, and I can't see what competition I've got, I can't see anything out there. At Wednesday at Loyola, you gave comic tags to some of your critical opponents taken from Koestler, Yogis [?] and Komisars are critics that are formalists and culturally and politically aware and I wondered, do you see the ideal critic or type of criticism as combining these two?
Well, I think that people have certain talents, you know, and they should exercise what talents they have, and that all kinds of criticism should be available to the reader. I don't think that every critic has to do everything, I think that would be asking a singer to be a dancer.
I remember you saying it was good to have both kinds, I wondered if you think they could be combined?
Audience #5 (male)
Is it possible that the body of knowledge turns into the knowing body?
Is it possible that the body of knowledge turns into the knowing body? Um, I'll let you answer that. If such a person could do it, I'd like to see it, I've never see anybody who could do both at the same time. Frye, for instance, does one kind in one book and then another kind in another book, but he usually doesn't usually do them both in the same book. I would say that Yogi-ism is necessary to be able to read a poem, just period pure and simple. To see what is happening in it. But Komasarism is necessary to place it in a larger context. Why not do both?
Yes, I see. Back there, you
Audience #6 (male)
Do you think that Quebec is a part of Canada?
Oh that's such a good question.
Audience #6 (male)
Do you think that a Quebecois is a Canadian?
I think I'll leave that to the Quebecois to decide for themselves. They're the people concerned. [Audience applause] I was talking with one not so long ago, Marie Claire Blais, and I asked her that question. I said 'well, what do you think of yourself as? Do you think of yourself as a Quebecoise? or a Canadian? or a North-American, or part of Western European culture or a universalist? And she said, I am from Quebec. [Laughter.] Does that answer your question? Yes.
Audience #7 (female)
What is your opinion of the introductions in the New Canadian Library Series?
Well, they vary. [Laughter.] Do you mean the one? Well, I thought that it was, it was like a, well, the only thing I can think of is something fairly vulgar, um, but I don't mean that I think it was bad. I mean that I think it was quite a ponderous organization, being brought to bear on what I consider to be a fairly light piece of writing. That is, at the front of my book, I have a quotation from the Joy of Cooking which tells how to make puff pastry. And then I have you know, critical sort of, really big critical apparatus coming in and talking about the symbolic structuring and the this and the that, and I think it's nice, I'm glad to know about those things, but [laughter] it's somehow, I thought my novel was a bit more comic than that. If you know what I mean.
Audience #8 (female)
I wanted to ask a question, I was considering if you considered yourself an ironist because you're talking about [inaudble] irony, is what I'm quite attracted to [inaudible.]
Yeah, well, you can have both of course, as a matter of fact you usually do.
Audience #8 (female)
You were talking about anger, and "permit me the present tense" kind of thing, seems to me that that was ironic.
Ambigu- it has a double meaning. But that's not always irony, I think irony has been [Audience #8 inaudible comment.] Well, somebody defined irony as a kind of literature in which the reader knows more about what's going on with the character than the character knows himself, shall we say. So, yes, of course, I think that happens in an awful lot of modern literature. Yes.
Audience #9 (female)
I understand you're working on Survival 2?
Not working, exactly.
Audience #9 (female)
I was wondering whether you could, or would like to elaborate on that.
Yeah, okay. There was to have been something called Survival Two, which was to have been this really dynamite anthology. Which would have incorporated many of the short pieces mentioned in Survival, plus other ones that were appropriate and we did assemble this and then we had it priced as to how much it would cost for permissions and how much it would cost us to print it and it was just astronomically expensive. So we had to shelf that, and that was what Survival Too was to have been. Now I'll probably publish the proposed table of contents sometime and you can see what would have been in it. [Laughter], You know, but a small publisher cannot afford to do this kind of thing. However, I am, I won't say working on because I'm working on it in the same sense that I'm working on my PhD thesis, what I'm really doing is writing a novel. But I will, should I live that long, write a second edition of Survival, in which I hope to have five new chapters and additions to the ones that already exist. I think the thing about Survival that sometimes gets forgotten was that it was based on what was available in paperback at the time. A lot more things are available in paperback now, we have General Publishing coming on the scene, with Paper Jacks [?], and New Canadian Library expanding itself and McMillan's paperbacks expanding. So there's just a lot more around that you can put in and also new books have been published that I would like to talk about and I've discovered older ones that I didn't know about before. So, all of these things, plus a new introduction and maybe a few things at the back, I would like to do. However, I'm not quite ready to do it yet. I took a kind of holiday after I finished Survival One, and I'm still in that, it's a holiday devoted to writing other things. Yes,
Audience #10 (male)
Who are your favorite poets?
I tend to have favorite poems, rather than favorite poets, but I can tell you the names of some people who've written some of my favorite poems. One of them is Margaret Avison, one of them is P.K. Page, they're poems by all kinds of people that I really like, for instance, I really like some of A.M. Klein's poems. I think they're just super. And more modern people, for instance, Michael Ondaatje, I like his work, Al Purdy I was reading in the early to middle Sixties, Doug Jones at that time. It covers a very wide range. I'm a kind of omnivorous reader, I'll read anything, including the backs of Cornflake boxes, so that you just never know, and it also changes, you know, because you read somebody for a while and then you've done that so you go and read somebody else.
[Inaudible question from the audience] Oh yeah, I get various little magazines come floating in through the mail to me, for some reason. And right now, for instance, I'm reading a lot of Adrienne Rich, because I'm about to write a review of her latest book. This kind of thing, I mean it varies from month to month. If you ask me the same question in January the question would be different. Yes.
Audience #11 (female)
[Inaudible question] Is Surfacing more than vaguely autobiographical?
It's vaguely, if you're talking about the plot- no. The setting, yes, and this is generally true of fiction, that people write from a setting that they know. They generally create characters out of some people that they've known plus they throw things in and invent them and make mosaics out of various things and the characters are fictional. The plot is usually a total invention. I mean, my parents are still alive and well, all of that. No, I have never been a paranoid schizophrenic with amnesia. [Laughter.] And as for the Edible Woman, I've never gone off food, but all kinds of other people have. You know, they come up to me and say, 'Gee, how did you know the story of my life' and 'that's happened to me' and 'let me tell you it was awful, I used to throw up on busses'. I was kind of shocked, actually, I thought it was all a big comic invention of my own. I see one waving at the back.
Audience #12 (female)
Um, excuse me, would you say that your base your characters on some type of psychological background?
Um, I try to make them believable in so far as it will fit the plot. That is, I try to make what they do believable to myself, but they have to do what they do if you see what I mean. Yes.
Audience #13 (male)
Would you say the Edible Woman is a comical invention of your own?
I said I thought it was, yeah.
Audience #13 (male)
Well, how would you define that, as a comedy?
Oh, okay, if you wanna be technical. Um, the Edible Woman is actually an anti-comedy. Because a comedy is a form in which usually a young couple goes through a series of misadventures and blokings and gets married at the end. Now in the Edible Woman, a young couple goes through a series of misadventures and blokings and somebody else gets married at the end. [Laughter.] Yes.
Audience #14 (male)
Could you tell us anything about the novel you're writing now?
Not a thing, that's my one superstition- well, it's one of my superstitions. I can't talk about work that I'm doing, it uses up the energy. It's true. Yeah.
Audience #15 (female)
I read the Edible Woman right after reading a book by Robertson Davies, about [inaudible]
Okay, the question is I read the Edible Woman right after reading a book by Robinson Davies, Fifth Business?
Audience #15 (female)
No, an earlier book.
Audience #15 (female)
It was a comedy
Audience #15 (female)
About a couple in a town [inaudible] resolve it and they get married. And I wondered why he wasn't mentioned in Survival at all.
Well, I think probably because I wasn't doing humour and I wasn't doing magic. But since I am doing humour and magic in the next two chapters, then he will be in those. Samuel Marchbanks will be in under humour and Fifth Business and Nanticore will be in under magic. I find the magician figure in Fifth Business very interesting from this particular advantage point. Why do Canadian magicians have to disguise themselves as foreigners in order to be thought of as magic. [Laughter.] You find this in Gwen MacEwen too. Specifically in the book called No Man.
Audience #16 (female)
Is that a novel?
It is a series of short stories, but there's sort of a central one in which you have the same [inaudible] pattern. Okay, let's have one more if there is one more. There isn't one more, there's one more.
Audience #17 (male)
Um the poems that you read tonight, would you consider those the best or the most significant ones from your collection, and if neither of those things, why did you select the ones that you read? The reason that I've asked that is because I've read your latest book quite carefully and I think that you read the, some of the best poems from it. I was wondering if you thought they were some of the best poems.
Yeah. I think that one of the best things in it is section number 3, but that consists of 24 poems, which seem to me to be too long. I read some of them that I like quite a lot, yes, this is true, but I left out some others that I also like quite a lot because it seemed to me that they were too long and at this particular night anyway I felt that I should get through as quickly as possible because we were all stifling to death. Um, and with that I think that I will now end the question period and we can all go out and have a drink of water. [Aplause.]
I'd just like to thank Margaret Atwood very much for being with us tonight-- [Laughter.]
END OF RECORDING.