The Book Reviewer
“For the Best in Books”

Book Review


The Legacy of Gwendolyn MacEwen, Canadian Icon.

Byline: Subterranean Blue Poetry

Title of Book: Volume One: The Early Years

Author: Gwendolyn MacEwen

Publisher: Exile Editions

Date of Publication: 1993

Page Count: 175

“Weep you no more, sad fountains;
What need you flow so fast?”
- from Weep you no more, sad fountain by John Dowland

The writing of Gwendolyn MacEwen is iconic, the last breath of Modernism, breathing fire into the renaissance in romance. With striking imagery and lyric language, the Oracle conjures the history of ancient civilizations and the rites of magic in poetic form. The Poet and novelist was born in Toronto, welcomed into the literary community, she left school at the age of 17 to pursue writing. She taught herself languages, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek and French and translated writers into English. She was a writer in residence at the University of Western Ontario and University of Toronto and won the Governor General’s Award twice, writing more than 20 books.

This poetry born at the end of the Machine Age into the great awakening of the Peace Movement of the 1960’s, is measured in eloquent language, as if cast into boxes and time, some heroine in a cage in a play. The poetry stands, rings in, a memorial to stone flower monuments in the rain. As if a courtier or princess in an ancient court, the imagery dances with allusions to Greek Mythology, the Ancient Egyptians, the mysteries of the Cabala, entwined with nature imagery, and with the dead beat of the disembodied Industrial society in the background, the poetry begins to round into mythologies.

The series of 9 Arcanum poems writes in the voice of a princess, the politics and intrigues of a court scene, a dowager king, a fall from grace, a prince dies yet is somehow reclaimed at the end of the story, perhaps a reflection of the Artist’s journey.

From the series of 9 Arcanum poems:

Arcanum One: The Prince

“and in the morning the king loved you most

and wrote your name with a sun and a beetle

and a crooked ankh, and in the morning

you wore gold mainly, and the king adorned you

with many more names.

beside fountains, both of you slender

as women, circled and walked together

like sunrays circling water, both of you

slender as women wrote your names with

beetles and with suns, and spoke together

in the golden mornings.

and the king entered your body

into the bracelet of his name

and you became a living syllable

in his golden script, and your body

escaped from me like founting water

all the daylong.

but in the evenings you wrote my name

with a beetle and a moon, and lay upon me

like a long broken necklace which had fallen

from my throat, and the king loved you

most in the morning, and his glamouous love

lay lengthwise along us all the evening.”

The poetry unfolds, as if timeless, as if looking backwards through a glass, defuse with melancholy and mythological archetypes, as if between worlds at the end of time.

Arcanum Nine: The King

“I do not adorn you with any more names

for the living ghost of the king our father

hovers forever above our secret bed

like the royal hawk with wings outspread

on whose head the awful sun burns out

the many generations of our dreams.

and we are the end of his ancient line,

your seed a river of arrested time

whose currents bring the cursed crown

forever back to the foot of this bed –

the double crown of those who wear

the kingdoms of heaven and hell on their head.

the royal bird is blind in morning

and its glamorous wings will shade us

till the end of time. but O my brother

will you wear forever that stolen ring

which wounds your hand by night, and why

in your dreams do you go to the king, the king?”

The poetry, itself, lives in a deconstructed free verse style, and is lyric with occasional rhyme. The poems titles are entirely in capital letters, the poems themselves begin with small letters, there is the occasional period, but sometimes not. Sometimes the poems end suddenly as if jumping into air. It is the beginning of a grand truthtelling and perhaps the beginning of protest and “Apocalypse” poetry. A certain tension in violence, as if in the middle of an underground war.

The Death Agony of the Butterfly

“a monarch beat its velvet brain

against the light, against

the cold light, that’s

what you said.

dance you, dance

you bitch

against the light against

the cold light, that’s

what you said . . . “


The Magician: Three Themes

One: The Magician

“odd that the people want to own you

and produce you like a black poodle

at fatal teaparties where their blood crowds

up in the thunder of the afternoon,

inside their houses, in the fatal rooms

of their faith and dark doubting . . . “

As if the haunting, dark with death imagery and majesty these early works could be considered the seeds of the Gothic Revival movement, as the literary world was blooming into Post-Modernism. The writing is often profound and as if written by hand into stone, elegant, of old world mystery, perhaps prophetic, this poetry captivates as classic literature. Volume I: The Early Years of the Collected Works of Gwendolyn MacEwen, available at Amazon.

Available @ Amazon Canada.

Available @ Amazon United States.

Available @ Amazon United Kingdom.

Genre: Poetry, Women's Literature

The Book Reviewer

© 2015