Gwendolyn MacEwen George Bowering - Essay

George Bowering

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gwendolyn MacEwen's poems are filled with the things the wants. And the language of the poems is a language of ambition, of wanting. It stands outside the mainstream of current Canadian poetry, which seems generally to belong to the post-Williams age. That is, Miss MacEwen's language is opposite to the language of … Raymond Souster. One is aware of something like poetic diction, not the rhythmic arrangement of a prose line. In a poem like "All The Fine Young Horses", for instance, her "issues" if she claims any, are not of matter and the senses, but of a young, feminine, personal imagination. Anthology-makers or those who teach survey courses might call her a Romantic….

[The Rising Fire] is the first major collection of Miss MacEwen's poetry…. [The] best poems are the later ones, and the book would be more enjoyable if the whole thing were made up of the later poems, like the musical "The Catalogues of Memory". (p. 70)

Miss MacEwen's usual unwillingness to be direct sets a distance at first. She is not an immediate poet in this time of immediacy. One may be put off by certain amateur tricks, such as the use of an adverb in place of an adjective ("like darkly trees"); or impatient with her effort to overcome the inertia of a heavy metaphor, as in the poem, "Eden, Eden". But in other poems such as "The Absolute Dance" and "The Dimensions of a Tiger", the voice responds as well as expressing, and the work becomes true … as well as lovely.

In other words, this is an important book. It contains within it the evidence that a young woman with a marvellous talent is beginning to take charge. (p. 71)

George Bowering, "A Complex Music," in Canadian Literature, Summer, 1964, pp. 70-1.