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Poetry Canadian

Dry Wells of India

An Anthology Against Thirst

edited by George Woodcock

foreword by Margaret Atwood

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Jan 1989
Canadian, General, Anthologies (multiple authors)
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jan 1989
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The Canadian Poetry Contest was launched to provide funds to help Canada India Village Aid in its programme of building dams and digging wells to counter the serious drought conditions that have arisen in northwestern India. A total of 1,255 poets entered no less than 3,223 poems. This collection includes the six prize-winning poems by John Pass (first prize), J. Dalayne Barber, Ron Charach, Jan Conn, Kerry Johanssen and Dale (David) Zieroth plus 45 by such well-known poets as Dorothy Livesay, Anne Marriott, H.R. Percy and Susan Musgrave as well as a host of others, many published here for the first time.

About the authors

George Woodcock (1912-1995) is one of Canada's best-known and most prolific authors. He was born in Winnipeg and educated in England, where he socialized with some of the century's most prominent writers and intellectuals including Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Herbert Read and T.S. Eliot. He returned to Canada in 1949 and taught at the University of British Columbia for many years. In 1959, he founded the journal Canadian Literature. His contribtution to Canadian culture is immeasurable; he either wrote or edited over one-hundred books including The Crystal Spirit, his Governor-Genral's award-winning biography of Orwell; Gabriel Dumont, another bestselling biography; and Anarchism a guide to the political philosophy which continues to be read around the world. His wide range of writing includes literary criticism, poetry, travel writing, plays, social history, biography, politics and essays.

George Woodcock's profile page

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master's degree from Radcliffe College.
Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than fifty volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid's Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood's dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood's work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.
Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson. 

Margaret Atwood's profile page

Excerpt: Dry Wells of India: An Anthology Against Thirst (edited by George Woodcock; foreword by Margaret Atwood)

In 1845 Sir John Franklin with a crew of 129 officers and
men sailed hom England to map the Northwest passage
and to collect specimens of arctic wildlife. His ships the
Erebus and Terror were last seen in July of that year. In 1856 an expedition commissioned by Lady Jane Franklin found proof of Franklin's death and the loss of his men; an official diary exhumed from a cairn on King William Island also described the surviuors'plan to walk south to the mainland. Evidence shows they pulled a life-boat loaded with food and flammable materials overland for hundreds of miles before the last men died. . .

In blade-silver straits between islands even summer
was stillborn, endangered as the adamant songs
of gulls deserting into fogs above the passage

they did not discover. Twin ships lashed by anchor cords
indivisibly to their extinction. Well-crafted hulls
scuttled, crushed by shards of puzzling ice, sharp white as the

marked fringes of maps, or fine English timbers
bleached and bleaching ivory under the blind-
folded hills. A certain shade of white but not

the white of certainty, that fabric of a virginal century's premise, torn. White of the whale, winter's bones
scrimshawed with piercing weather. The Erebus. The Terror,
the terror, To see that tone stare at the page's edge until snow-
blind as the sailors at their dying, staggering
south into gales, white of blizzard hail cracked shorestones and

untouched sheet
of ice, as I fill its pale
whalers peering from the foredeck
of search boats into the freezing)
with terms of unlikely rescue. . .

Sir John Franklin sailed with a
of proofs
and charts mapping the misty transition
from history to incoherence;
on his maps
a white fiercer than uncomposed parchment
a mutinous pallour, unshrouded cautions
of all colours spread outward like a blot, and hinted

there is no passage here for men
from Devon and Somerset
who have healthy sons and delicate
faithful wives
Whose whole world will become a margin
clenched white around their ships--

John Franklin did not discover his aim

but a whiteness in every sound as patient
and impartial as icebergs
awaiting the blind
century sailing onward, credulous, captained by a sane
faith in progress
that read meaning into every passage
because it was sailing ahead too fast, an evolutionary defect

grinding the littoral under heads
where gravestones of three men face north like sentries
across a frozen sound
with no one left to inform
of anything

a hundred more who scrawled
a linear history
in snow and cairns stuffed with rope and empty tins and polished
bones a cold summer south to Victory

then perished
in duned waves
Britannia never ruled, refuted

by blinding storms
the hoar
face of a spreading earth
hauling behind them a life
boat full of England

able in the end
to lift around them with only voices
a fleeting shanty
of song

Other titles by George Woodcock

Other titles by Margaret Atwood