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Margaret Atwood Reads Her Erotic Poem About Cicadas


I was out for a trail run this past weekend through the woods near my house, and a thrumming filled the air - this thrumming.


KELLY: Listening to the racket, the words of Margaret Atwood sprang to mind - not "The Handmaid's Tale," Atwood's dystopian novel, but from her recent book of poetry, which takes on aging, grief and lust. She and I discussed it last fall.


KELLY: There's some wonderful poems about sex, one titled "Cicadas." This is about insect sex.

MARGARET ATWOOD: It's not human sex.

KELLY: No, it's bugs. But it is - it's steamy.

ATWOOD: Oh, you think? (Laughter).

KELLY: Yeah.

ATWOOD: I don't know what the cicadas will think of it. Just to make you laugh, Amazon UK had got this book as No. 1 under the category of erotic poetry.

KELLY: (Laughter).

ATWOOD: And I thought, what?

KELLY: Read us "Cicadas" so people know what you did with this.

ATWOOD: Yeah. So the cicadas, yes - "Cicadas." (Reading) Finally, after nine years of snouting through darkness, he inches up scarred bark and cuts loose the yammer of desire, the piercing one note of a jackhammer vibrating like a slow bolt of lightning, splitting the air and leaving a smell like burnt tar paper. Now, it says. Now, it says, now, clinging with six clawed legs. And close by, a she like a withered ear, a shed leaf brown and veined shivers in sync and moves closer. This is it. Time is short. Death is near. But first, first, first, first in the hot sun, searing all day long in a month that has no name, this annoying noise of love, this maddening racket, this admitted song.

KELLY: Oh, wow. I am never going to hear that cicada song outside my bedroom window in the same way again.

ATWOOD: Although you may be just as annoyed by it.


KELLY: I think I'm going to be rooting for them at this point.

ATWOOD: They can get pretty loud (laughter).

KELLY: Yeah, I'm still rooting for them. And I'm hoping Atwood's poem "Cicadas" might give you new perspective on the din that may be unfolding outside your window right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Sarah Handel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]