Generative Exercise on Margaret Atwood’s “You Fit into Me”

Model Poem

The model poem we’re using as an illustration of what a poem does, and how to respond to a poem, is “you fit into me,” (1971) by Margaret Atwood. The poem is very short, consisting only of four lines in two stanzas, or two couplets:

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye 

Directions

  1. Read “you fit into me” aloud to get a feel for the poem’s rhythm and timing. Think about what it means and what the images make you feel. What scenes come to your mind when reading this poem?
  2. Answer the following prompts. Include the prompts above each response so I am sure which questions you are answering. 
  • What images or scenes came to your mind when you read this poem?
  • What do you think the speaker of the poem is saying about the relationship between the speaker and the “you” the speaker is addressing? How do you interpret the words “hook” and “eye” in stanza 1 and stanza 2? Are either of these words used as puns? Specifically use the terms imagery, simile, stanza and turn in your answers.
  • After you write the above prompts (so you are not influenced), read the short critical discussion of “you fit into me” (below) and answer: Do you agree with what the critic Jes Simmons writes about this poem? Why or why not? Explain your reasons. Give a complete answer.
  • Write a brief four-line, free verse (no rhyme) poem made up of 2 stanzas of 2 lines each, in which you define a relationship by using a simple image in stanza 1, and redefine it surprisingly in stanza 2, as our model poem does. This will not only potentially generate a pithy poem, but have you think about the idea of the turn, and about using imagery. It might be harder than it seems to write a short poem this way! Good luck.

Critical Writing: “Atwood’s ‘You Fit into Me,'” by Jes Simmons

from The Explicator vol. 51, 1993.

Women’s ways of knowing are essential to understanding Margaret Atwood‘s meaning and intention in “[You Fit Into Me].”[1] Having taught the poem in numerous literature classes, I have found that female readers interpret the poem quite differently from male readers. For most women, this is a poem of assumption, counterassumption, and renegotiated assumption that ties gender to experience. Most men, however, are oblivious to the poem’s complexity, for their experiences and cultural background work to preclude them from fully comprehending it.

For most women, the interpretation of the first two lines is positive and appealing: the “fit” is tight and secure. This simile for lovemaking is effective, for women understand the “hook” and “eye” as being clothing fasteners that they employ every day, such as the hook and eye of bras that close in the back or the delicate fasteners around the neck of some dresses and blouses. Rarely using this type of fastener, few male readers make this assumption. Instead, they think first of a fishhook and a human eye. They miss the poem’s full meaning and often find the last lines redundant.

The crucial elements of surprise and shock in the second stanza, which so devastatingly startle women readers, are lost on most male readers. For women, the lines contradict the initial, positive image of sexuality by specifying the type of hook and eye. Atwood knows that these lines are necessary for women readers because they must discard their first assumption and replace it with a counterassumption of violence that elicits a response of pain, revulsion, and horror. The poem’s phallic fishhook and vagina-shaped eye show how painful-and violent-sexual penetration can be. The “fit” is now unbearable.

After comprehending the pain of sexual oppression in the poem, the female reader next must renegotiate this counterassumption, for “[You Fit Into Me]” is not necessarily an anti-sex or anti-male poem. Despite the pain involved, the act (or fit) is accepted: the eye is open. This word is crucial, for the “me” in the poem is aware of what will happen or has happened; she hasn’t shut her eyes to it. And if the “eye” is a pun, then this “I” is open and accepts the “you” in the poem.

The best response to “[You Fit Into Me]” is through a woman’s way of knowing, for the poem is grounded in women’s everyday experiences, in the clothing they wear, in their sexual encounters, and in their awareness of how abusive power and control can be in society. For men to appreciate the full intensity and complexity of the poem, they must renegotiate their own ways of knowing; they must read and see through women’s eyes; they must fit into them.

NOTE

1. Margaret Atwood, “[You Fit into Me],” Power Politics (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1971).

For several decades I have conducted writing workshops of all kinds, and for 14 years I have taught writing on the faculty of Indiana University Southeast. Now I have decided to give back for these opportunities by making my lessons available online. I hope you enjoy this lesson, and the other lessons here on my writing Web site, michael-jackman.com. You may download and use any lesson here free of charge, provided you give credit as: © Copyright Michael Jackman. All Rights Reserved.

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