REVIEW: Margaret Atwood’s Favourite Poems. Ledbury Poetry Festival.

Half the appeal of seeing any celebrity on stage is to study that person’s mannerisms, to second guess what really makes them tick.

Margaret Atwood was a friendly but formidable presence on the stage of Ledbury’s Community Hall on Sunday, July 14. Here was a writer at the top of her game, speaking with a clear, measured diction and ending many of her statements - on art, life, feminism, politics or literature with an emphatic “yes”. Her hand movements, when they came, were slow and measured and her pointing finger was as mesmerising as her imposing stare. No wonder Atwood is a guru for many people, young and old. She has the well considered opinions which come from a long intellectual life and, although she is naturally cautious when asked to give predictions about the state of the planet or the future of feminism, there is the sense that the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” might just be able to see a little further along the road than the rest of us.

She also expects to be heard. On one occasion when the excellent interviewer Ursula Owen allowed her concentration to slip at little, Atwood regained Ursula's attention by saying in a sing-song voice, “I was talking to you!” It was good natured and amusing, and Atwood also displayed a light touch with irony, when she explained how Harvard would not allow female lecturers in the 1950s because the university “had high standards”. She would take Baden-Powell to her desert island because he could put up the tents, and sex would not be an issue...

Atwood’s own standards are discerning: as she displayed in choosing moving poems from female literary icons, such as Adrienne Rich and Anna Akmatova, as well as from lesser known poets.