I’ve been looking for a copy of You Are Happy for a long time. It was first published in 1974, and like a lot of Atwood’s poetry, I don’t think it’s been reprinted. But I was travelling through small-town Ontario, and begged my fellow roadtrippers to stop when we passed a bookstore, and this beautifully-kept edition was just waiting for me like it was meant to be.
I first read it in a period in my life when I was distinctly unhappy, and not really dealing with the fact that I was happy, and not really dealing with the fact that I was making myself unhappy. I was deep in the stacks of my university library, looking for something else entirely, and the title on the spine jumped out at me like a lightning bolt. Yellow text on a bright blue background! It’s electrifying! It felt like Margaret Atwood grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye and said it to me, sternly: You. Are. Happy!
And it’s not like I magically became happy, but it jolted me a little, and I needed a jolt. In fact, a lot of the poems in the book are quintessentially Atwood-shivery and unsettling. But they’re beautiful, too – little ways of spying out how the world is more than it seems, for both good and ill.
I haven’t read the other two collections, which I picked up three days earlier when my favourite local used bookstore had a huge book sale, but I’ve been meaning to get to them for a long time. I suspect one or both of them will come up on my comps list in a couple of months – Circle Game as, I’m told, some of Atwood’s sharpest feminist poetry, and Susanna Moodie as a heartrending (and far more readable) retelling of one of CanLit’s oldest books – which definitely will be something I have to read by this time next year.