The Selected Gwendolyn MacEwen

 One of the greatest pleasures in my life is getting The Globe and Mail delivered to our door every Saturday morning. A good part of Saturday morning and the early afternoon is spent in bed pouring over the newspaper. One of my favourite sections is the Book Review. Some people in publishing  argue that The Globe book section is non-representative of the breadth and depth of Canadian publishing and that it covers only big houses etc..but say what you might, I think it does an okay job. And now that I’m away from the publishing industry I find it a quick way to get a birds eye view of what’s happening in books and it often acts as a guide to what I want to read next.

Two weeks ago I became intrigued by a review on “The Selected Gwendolyn MacEwen“.  The reviewer Judith Fitzgerald, called MacEwen one of the “greatest poets of her generation”. I don’t pretend to know a lot about Canadian poetry other than that I love Michael Ondaatje and George Elliott Clarke so it didn’t surprise me that I had never heard of her.

So I turned to my facebook friends and put the word out amongst them, most of whom, I might add, are very well read women. None of them had heard of Gwendolyn. So I hunted down a former colleague of mine on Facebook, Lynn Henry, who happens to be a very fine, book editor at House of Anansi Press and I asked her and this is what Lynn had to say, ” Gwen MacEwan was a fabulous poet — one of the greatest female Canadian poets, for sure. Somewhat tragic life, but very interesting. I would definitely recommend her.”

That was enough to convince me that I needed to read some of Gwen’s poetry. A friend of mine had a comp copy and brought it along with her when she visited. I’ve only just started reading the collection which includes her poetry, translations and plays, all beautifully introduced with full colour plate illustrations.

I have only just started and already I have earmarked several poems for re-reading, thinking, re-reading again and again. 

This is one of those poems:

The Death and Agony of the Butterfly

a monarch beat its velevet brain

against the light, against

the cold light, I 

thought of you.


dance you, dance

you bitch

against the light against 

the cold light, that’s 

what you said.


always behind me, always

behind me is

your violent music, beat

until the butterfly’s velvet brain 

is dead.


dance you, dance

you bitch, I 

love you against

the light against

the cold light, always

behind me is

your violent music.



Filed under Book Reviews

3 responses to “The Selected Gwendolyn MacEwen

  1. Gwen was a great poet, writer, translated a lot of good work, and a fine friend
    good to see this

  2. soniaelizabeth

    I just added a poem on my blog dedicated to Gwendolyn. I have the book. I’m a Toronto poet.
    check out my blog. Cheers.

  3. so i am subbing a bit for a grade 12 English class, and searching for Gwen Macewen poems as she’s my fave poet…and what synchronicity to come across your lovely site! Beautifully done;)

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