Political Poetry by Margaret Atwood Essay

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"Backdrop addresses cowboy" by Margaret Atwood
Creating a masterful poetic movement through the American mythos, Atwood skewers "manifest destiny" by embodying the voice of the Other, the discarded "I am."

Writing political poetry that artfully confronts dominant ideology – thus exposing the motivation and effects of misrepresentation – is a difficult challenge. The process can easily be derailed by temptations to write strident, overly didactic verse that elevates sentiment above nuance and craft. While passion is certainly important, it is the poem itself that transforms political intent into a dynamic act of oppositional literature. To be effective as a statement, it must first be effective as a poem. In "Backdrop addresses cowboy,"
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Regarded as a heroic figure by the myth of manifest destiny, he is conversely seen as a reckless tyrant by those who suffer the effects of his violence. The first stanza reveals a comic figure - "Starspangled cowboy" sauntering through his child-like fantasy while pulling a prop from the Hollywood simulacrum that supports his myth. Atwood complicates this image in the second stanza when she introduces violence to her "almost- /silly" characterization of the mythical "West." Using a line break to accentuate the transition, she plays the impact of a stand-alone line against the expanded meaning of its grammatical context. Isolated, line six ("you are innocent as a bathtub") relates directly to the opening stanza’s child-like caricature, forming an aphoristic trope that is both interesting and oddly mundane. Accentuated by the break, the line’s reading adds dramatic nuance when its sentence unfolds into a broader meaning: "you are innocent as a bathtub / filled with bullets." Contrasting the ironic character of opposed readings (innocent and not-at-all-innocent) within the space of shared words, Atwood foreshadows an overall conceptual structure in which "backdrop" refers both to the simulacrum of Hollywood sets and to the genuine environment of a beleaguered world. Despite its obvious quantitative reference, "bathtub / filled with bullets" also infers a Hollywood cliché – the bullet-riddled
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