Trade Customers click here
← Back to Book Main Page

Introduction by Margaret Atwood

This is not an ordinary anthology of poems. It's a harebrained scheme or a leap of faith, depending on your level of cynicism. It's something that shouldn't have worked, but did. In its modest way, it's the word made flesh.

How can you convert poetry - usually considered one of the most aerial and impractical of human expressions - into a cluster of small irrigation dams in arid parts of India? Dams which will create many seasonal jobs in one of the most destitute areas of the earth and continue life through the provision of water for thousands of people and their animals: an immeasurable quantity of renewed hope. But this conversion of poetry to irrigation dams is what George and Inge Woodcock set out to do. They ran a poetry contest to help sponsor Canada India Village Aid. Each entrant was charged five dollars. The entries were sifted by preliminary judges - George Bowering, George McWhirter, W.H. New and Inge Woodcock - and a batch of 51 poems selected from an astonishing 3,223 entries was then read by final judges Al Purdy, George Woodcock and myself. We selected six winners and one first place. The winners all read at Toronto's Harbourfront Reading Series to, I'm pleased to say, a packed and enthusiastic house. The entrance fees for the contest, the proceeds from the reading and the royalties from this anthology all go to Canada India Village Aid and will be matched three to one by CIDA, generating a total of about $65,000. The money is enough to build about ten small stonefaced dams using village labour.

This may not seem a whole lot of money, but the Canadian dollar goes far in poverty-stricken regions of India. Even so, it may not seem like much, in view of the overwhelming global problems of poverty, the overpopulation of fragile regions, malnutrition, and overuse and desertification of the land which face us now in the late twentieth century. But although the problems are global, the solutions must begin locally or the will be no solutions.

The philosophy of Canada India Village Aid is not free handouts; instead, through its on-the-ground programmes which combine medical services and agrarian advice with small-scale conservation and construction, it strives to help make a village or local area self-sufficient.

For this book, the poems were selected from those which arrived so generously from all over Canada and the United States. They are of an amazing range and variety and represent no one school, no one movement or approach to language, and no one region. All the poems have in common is quality and the goodwill of their authors. We are often told that words cannot really change the world, and by themselves they cannot. But in partnership with human initiative and inventiveness and will, they stand more than a candle's chance in the harsh winds that are blowing over the earth.

Increasingly, the world is a village. If the rainforests go, so will our oxygen, eventually. If weather patterns are changed elsewhere, through human neglect, greed or desperation, they will change for us too, Unless we begin somewhere, we will not begin. Unless we help others we will be unable, finally, to help ourselves.

Thus this book.