Margaret Atwood's poetry is too good for the implicit condescension in the acclaim for her as a woman writing about women--and judging from her new book, she is getting better all the time. Her poems straddle the line where personal and general history meet. Even at her most intimate, she is--in the large--"The Woman Who Makes Peace With Her Faulty Heart": "We know that, barring accidents,/ one of us will finally betray the other." A 19th-century massacre of Quebecois by imported Scottish mercenaries also acquires a more general cast in her hands: "Those whose houses were burned/ burned houses. What else ever happens. . . ?/ . . . still hungry,/ they watched the houses die like/ sunsets, like their own/ houses. Again/ those who gave the orders/ were already somewhere else,/ of course on horseback." She is direct and scrupulously honest; her advice to her small daughter could be her own credo: "I would like to say, Dance/ and be happy. Instead I will say, in my crone's voice, Be/ ruthless when you have to, tell/ the truth when you can see it." Her work is not without flaws or faults: often predictable last lines; the mannered use of pause or full stop in the middle of a line, followed by an apparently pointless enjambment ("Nothing stays free, though on what ought/ to be the lawn. . ./ . . ./ outside the wire, there's the dying/ rose hedge. . ."). But when she is in top form--as in "Marrying the Hangman," a subtly political portrait of gender and power--she establishes her fight to be taken very seriously indeed.