Addressing of Margaret Atwood, laureate of the Golden Wreath Award 2016
What a wonderful surprise to have been chosen for this year’s Golden Wreath Award, and to be able to attend the extraordinary Struga Poetry Evenings! I am deeply honoured to be included in a group of such distinguished poets – among them a number of old friends, some no longer alive, and among them too many poets I consider to be friends, though I know them only through their poems.
I am used to being viewed as a novelist, and to have my poetry – if not neglected – at least overshadowed. Yet for the first decade of my writing life I was known only as a poet, for poetry was – with the exception of a few stories – all that I had published. It was in fact the dominant literary form in my country, Canada, at that time, since it was very difficult then — in a post-colonial country with a small population –for a novel to be published unless it could find a publisher in a larger and more powerful centre, such as Britain, France, or the United States.
Poetry books, however, were small, and cheap to produce. Publishing poetry then was mostly a cottage industry: we Canadian poets created magazines and small publishers, exchanged our books, which had tiny print runs, and gave readings of our work in coffee houses. Poetry was not a career or a profession, lacking as it was in monetary rewards, employers, and pension plans – it was a vocation, a calling, and it remains so, almost everywhere, to this day. Poets practice their art because they love it, and feel compelled by it. There is no other reason.
Why this love? Poetry is the crucible of language, which is why it is so hard to translate, composed as it is of condensed, nuanced, allusive, formally intricate and multi-levelled speech. It speaks from the heart of human experience in a way that is both specific to an age, a language, and a culture, but at the same time – in the greatest poetry – universal, whatever we may mean by that.
Part of my excitement in accepting this award will be the chance to visit Macedonia, where I have never been. A very old culture and a very long tradition can be both treasures and burdens to those who live within them, but to visiting guests they are pure pleasures. I am very much looking forward to the Struga Poetry Evenings in August.
With sincere thanks,