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The Wide White Page - Writers Imagine Antarctica

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Adrian 3rd October 2006 06:36 AM


Editing an anthology sounds like an easy gig. Quick internet search, see what else was published in similar books, get your research assistants to sort the copyright out, then down the pub to spend the advance. I imagine the reality is a lot trickier, and Bill Manhire makes a superb job of this anthology of writings about Antarctica. His idea to include pieces mostly by authors who never visted Antarctica is inspired, and so we get a wide mix.


There are some inspired choices, like The Pole, a one act play by Vladimir Nabokov, and an extract from Tony Kurcher's play Angels in America. There are extracts from novels such as Kim Stanley Robinson's sci-fi novel Antarctica, and An Antarctic Mystery by Jules Verne, and excerpts from books by Michael Chabon and H.P. Lovecraft and others.


Diary extracts by Scott and Wilson make an unsurprising and rather benign appearance, but the best parts are the poetry. Manhire himself is a respected and famous (in some places!) poet who time on the ice as part of an "artists to Antarctica" programme.


There's Crean. Night Watch, by Melinda Mueller.



Crean. Night Watch


What would make Crean blush

would make a butcher's dog drop its bone


Coming back from Captain Scott's

last voyage, well, we sailed

into Oamaru in dead of night

and stood off till dawn, hailed


through we were by the lighthouse - What ship?

What ship? - wanting to prevent

the news from getting out till the families

could be cabled, as was only decent.


A funeral ship we were, that time.

Nor will I forget the sight

of what we found inside the tent.

Yet back I've come in spite


of all. One thing, I'd like to stand

at the Pole. I was so close

I could have shouted at it, and when

Scott turned us back and chose


the other team for that last push,

I'm not ashamed to say,

it was a blow brought me to tears.

We watched them away


and thought them a sure bet. And so

they were-to reach the Pole.

It's the coming home was more than they

could do, God rest their souls.


Sledging up the Beardmore Glacier,

I once saw the team ahead,

lifted by mirage, their doubles hung

in air above their heads


as if the Ice breathed out a mirror.

In the Ice you see your mates

for what it's worth-see yourself,

what's morem and love and hate


what shows there. I knew a man

came South with brown eyes

and went home with blue ones,

their coulour frozen by the Ice.


More than how you look, 'tis what

you see that changes most.

The first time I saw trees again,

they looked to me like green ghosts.





And The Barrier Silence, by Edward Wilson


The Silence was deep with a breath like sleep

As our sledge runner slid on the snow,

And the fateful fall of our fur-clad feet

Struck mute like a silent blow.

On a questioning "hush," as the settling crust

Shrank shivering over the floe;

And the sledge in its track sent a whisper back

Which was lost in a white-fog bow.

And this was the thought that the Silence wrought

As it scorched and froze us through,

Though secrets hidden are all forbidden

Till God means man to know.

We might be the men God meant should know

The heart of the Barrier snow,

In the heat of the sun, and the glow

And the glare from the glistening floe,

As it scorched and froze us through and through

With the bite of the drifting snow.




And an excerpt from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Acient Mariner (too long to quote here)


And this poem by Manhire himself, Visiting Mr Shackleton. Read the poem first before what follows.



for Chris Cochran


Cool! Wow! Beautiful! Awesome!

Like going back in time.

Amazing! Historic! Finally

I am truly blessed.


Wow! History! Fantastic!

Wonderfully kept.

Shackleton's the man!

Like going back in time.


Wow! Cool! Historic! Yo!

Awesome! Privileged. Unreal!

And Thank you, God. And Happy

Birthday, Dad. And Thailand.


It's composed completely from the comments book left by visitors to Shackleton's hut, and knowing that makes all the difference in the reading of the poem. Makes me glad I didn't write anything in it myself.


It's pointed me toward many other books I now want to read that I otherwise wouldn't have come across, and there's no finer praise than that.


[Had to write those poems out, any typos are mine. Some of the formatting was beyond me too. Also, I couldn't find the right place for this book. This seemed as good as anywhere]



Flingo 4th October 2006 06:30 PM


Is this a recent book, Adrian? If so, I am intrigued as to whether Geraldine McCaughrean's recent novel The White Darkness is quoted?


One of the few things that I actually enjoyed about it was it's stunning descriptions of Antarctica.



Adrian 5th October 2006 06:18 AM


It was published in 2004. No mention of McCaughrean I'm afraid, though I'll look out for it myself.



Flingo 5th October 2006 06:57 PM


The McCaughrean was published in 2005 so that would explain it. It won the Guardian Children's Book Award last year and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal amongst others. It seems to have had an impact in the "right" places!

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