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Gwendolyn MacEwen.

Toronto, General Publishing, c1982.
110pp, paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-7736-1117-7.

Grades 11 and up.
Reviewed by Tony Cosier.

Volume 11 Number 2.
1983 March.

Though it would seem a selection of well-crafted poems by an established poet should be able to stand alone, this volume would leave the reader more comfortable if the editors had provided a rationale for their selection. More than three quarters of the selection is taken from works published before Magic Animals, Gwendolyn MacEwen's first volume of selected poems, which appeared in 1974. The publishers' cover blurb states that none of the poems in Earthlight previously appeared in the latter, but tells us nothing beyond that. Are readers to assume that the editors regard the works in the new volume as poems of lesser quality?

A preface by D.G. Jones does not help in this regard, though Jones assures us that MacEwen's extensive use of Near East settings should have more topical interest today than it did in the sixties when MacEv^n first read her poems in Toronto coffee houses.

The poems are vigorous and imaginative. Many are obscure because MacEwen specializes in private mythology. When the central images of the myth are sharp enough to be visualized, as with the uni-cycle suspended beside a black tree, the reader can share the impulse. When images are clustered tightly and syntax and rhythm are so effective the reader does not care what MacEwen means, he/she can still share in the excitement. Where the central images are generalized, though, as in "I gave you many names and masks" or "there are so many places for places to hide," the reader is left in the cold.

Occasionally, MacEwen gives us a different type of poem. Two literary poems show us that MacEwen has worked through the difficult lyrics of Hart Crane and has shared the fun in Al Purdy's poetry circles. An imagist offering on two horses is taut and unforgettable.

The best item in the book (worth the price of the volume alone for those who do not have the original printing in The Shadow-Maker) is "One Arab Flute." The nine sections of this long poem present a clear, balanced vision of a divided Israel in 1962. There is no obscurity, simply a physical reality composed of cock and kite, arch and pillar and tower, labourer and priest, a child with a face like John the Baptist, a beggar too proud to beg, a boy herding sheep at sundown who plays a flute with such anarchy grasses move and winds awake.

The poems on T. E. Lawrence, the most recently published sections in the volume, are clearly grounded in landscape and history and have characteristic snap.

Tony Cosier, Confederation H. S., Nepean, ON.
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