Essay about Political Poetry by Margaret Atwood

1039 Words Mar 30th, 2013 5 Pages
"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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An inference like this reflects back on the subtle statement of the earlier use of "starspangled": a nation that imagines itself as besieged can use that camouflage as justification for militarism and imperialist expansion. Again, supported by the poem, these significations demonstrate a complicated structure that works internal logic to frame an effective (and damning) political statement. Oppositions and Conceptual Structure
This is a poem about power and disenfranchisement. It employs oppositions as a conceptual device to turn manifest destiny on its head. Exploding the cowboy myth by use of its own imagery and overarching theme of heroes and villains, Atwood draws complex parallels to American exceptionalism, a black and white ideology that drains color from alternative perspectives. By use of satire, she effectively removes the shroud that justifies questionable actions as being both inevitable and heroic. As stated in the title, the voice of this poem is that of "backdrop" (i.e. the environment of scenes portrayed by the myth and recontextualized by the poem) addressing "cowboy." The expanding focus on "cowboy" and his violent milieu reaches a pivot in the fifth stanza when the Hollywood backdrop is fully exposed, and the speaker finally reveals herself. Using the word "ought" (implying mandatory obligation), she questions her expected role on the set (passive, "hands clasped / in admiration") while asserting, "I am elsewhere." Spoken as "backdrop,"

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