Gwendolyn MacEwen Tom Marshall - Essay

Tom Marshall

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Gwendolyn MacEwan has always been a singer, one who sings forcefully of things exotic and mysterious. Readers and reviewers of [the 60's] responded immediately to her urgent and exuberant utterance even when—in some of the early poems—it approached incoherency. Indeed, a love of sheer sound, encouraged by her poetic idols Hart Crane and Dylan Thomas, sometimes ran away with the poem. But a myth was being unfolded in brief, sharp bursts of sound and imagery. One finds, for instance, from the beginning a desire for escape to other times and worlds (as in the poems of Michael Ondaatje) but also a passionate longing for the integration of opposites or pairs—light and dark, male and female, Canada and the arcane mysteries, past and future. Hers is the alchemical search for the divine in the mundane; magic and myth abound but are expressed in terms of human emotion and an attractively colloquial and flexible voice. (pp. 100-01)

For MacEwen the individual discovery of the universe is also the creation of the universe. The swimmer, the astronaut, the dancer, the magician recur as images of the poet whose activity is mythmaking, the construction from experience of meaningful patterns, and thus of the larger self, the larger consciousness (a process that assumes overtly nationalist and feminist significances in the work of Margaret Atwood). In A Breakfast For Barbarians, MacEwen's first mature collection, the poet is by turns...

(The entire section is 512 words.)