Gwendolyn MacEwen read from Breakfast for Barbarians (Ryerson, 1966) and poems to be published in The Shadow-Maker (Macmillan, 1969) and a few unknown poems.

Introducer - Roy Kiyooka


Second half of our program— On the second half of our program we will have Gwendolyn MacEwen reading for us. I have notes in my hand concerning her, but on the back of this album, here, a CBC publications release of... Is it eight Canadian poets? One, two, three, four... [Audience laughs.] Yes, eight Canadian poets, this album is about to be released very shortly. There's a much more comprehensive biography of her, so I shall read this as an introduction to her. Born in Toronto in 1941, began publishing poetry in the Canadian form at age fifteen. She left school at eighteen, a high school dropout, as the sociologists would say [audience member claps, laughter] to devote herself to writing. She has published three books of poetry, The Drunken Clock, The Rising Fire, and most recently, A Breakfast for Barbarians. She has also published a novel called Julian the Magician. In 1965, she was awarded the prize for poetry in the CBC's new writing contest. With the aid of a Canada Council grant, she is currently at work on a novel on the— How do you pronounce the guy's name? [Whispers off-mike.] Pharoah Akhenaton [laughter] of the eighteenth dynasty in Egypt. Ladies and gentlemen, Gwendolyn MacEwen.




[Cut/Edit it tape; unknown amount of time elapsed.]


Gwendolyn MacEwen


Phyllis and I had a great idea that if our voices gave out we were just going to open up the record and bring a recorder up on a stage and place the needle in the proper groove, and then just let the record speak for itself. However, I guess the voice is intact. I'm reading first from my latest work, poems from the last year. The first is called "The Zoo."




[Reads "The Zoo."]


Gwendolyn MacEwen


Not feeling that I'd sufficiently exploited beasts and things, I wrote another called "The Taming of the Dragon."




[Reads "The Taming of the Dragon."]


Gwendolyn MacEwen


Still not having exploited the animal kingdom, I wrote a poem which, well, is not connected with the animal kingdom at all, really. It's called "The Horse-head Nebula."




Reads "The Horse-head Nebula."




Reads "Wheels."


Gwendolyn MacEwen


This is a poem which, oddly enough, came out in a Mexican magazine in Spanish not too long ago, looking completely unrecognizable to me. It's called "I Should Have Predicted."




Reads "I Should Have Predicted."


Gwendolyn MacEwen


Some people have asked me if that poem was about Toronto, and I'm at a loss to answer, not having seen horses, riders, chariots, or anything remotely similar in Toronto. Plus the fact, I'm sure many people have predicted the death of Toronto, as far as that goes. I recall Phyllis reading a poem on perhaps an evolutionary theme, and I have one here called "The Heel."




Reads "The Heel."


Gwendolyn MacEwen


Now, I think I can safely move into Breakfast for Barbarians. It needs a little preparation. A little cushioning, perhaps.


Gwendolyn MacEwen


This is a poem called "The Garden of Square Roots: An Autobiography."




Reads "The Garden of Square Roots: An Autobiography."


Gwendolyn MacEwen


I think all poets should have some suffering poems, poems of great anguish. So feeling I was somewhat deficient in this area [laughter], I made use of a very opportune situation, recovering from an appendectomy in hospital. [Laughter] Deciding that surely this was my moment, if I was ever going to write a painful poem it must be now. So this is "Appendectomy."




Reads "Appendectomy."




Damage to recording; blip of silence in reading.




Damage to recording; blip of silence in reading.


Gwendolyn MacEwen


Although I can't say that I'm convinced that that suffering was valid, either. But... The next poem is called "The Self Assumes," and I rarely talk about how a poem gets written because it seems mostly irrelevant, but I would remark that the last line of this poem was one of those very strange, surprising things that comes to one almost instantaneously, and one plucks it out of the air. I was very delighted with it. "The Self Assumes."




Reads "The Self Assumes."


Gwendolyn MacEwen


The next poem is one of a group of poems toward the end of this book where the, I think the tone or the voice takes a somewhat radical departure from the poems in the rest of the book. It's called "The Caravan."




Reads "The Caravan."


Gwendolyn MacEwen


I'm trying to locate a poem in this book which I realized doesn't exist. It's somewhere else altogether. I'd like to end this reading with a trilogy of poems, which are also toward the end of Breakfast for Barbarians. Poems which, for me, represent a stage in my own growth as a poet. They are called the Arcanum poems, I believe they're on the record which Roy Kiyooka was showing you.




Reads "Arcanum One."


Gwendolyn MacEwen


Before I go into "Arcanum Two," in case anyone is mystified with beetles and suns and various creatures like that, let me say that the book is, the poem, rather, is of an Egyptian theme. A royal house. And the events taking place within it. So we move on: "Arcanum Two."




Reads "Arcanum Two."


Gwendolyn MacEwen


And finally, "Arcanum Three."




Reads "Arcanum Three."


Gwendolyn MacEwen


Thank you very much.




Cut/Edit in tape; unknown amount of time elapsed.


Introducer - Roy Kiyooka


...everybody here, I want to thank Gwendolyn MacEwen. Our night three is on December the second. Thank you very much.






Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. “MacEwen, Gwendolyn (1941-87)”. Routledge Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English. Eugene Benson & L.W. Connolly (eds). London: Routledge, 1994. 2 Vols. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 13, 2009.<>.

Atwood, Margaret and Barry Callaghan (eds). The Poetry of Gwendolyn MacEwen; Volume One: The Early Years. Toronto: Exile Editions, 1993.

Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Biography. Toronto: ECW Press, 1998.

Davey, Frank. “Gwendolyn MacEwen”. From There to Here. Erin, Ontario: Press Porcepic, 1974.

Geddes, Gary. “Gwendolyn MacEwen (1941-1987)”. Fifteen Canadian Poets Times Two. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990.

MacEwen, Gwendolyn. Breakfast for Barbarians. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1966.

---. Magic Animals: Selected Poems Old and New. Toronto: Macmillan, 1974.

Mandel, Eli. “Gwendolyn MacEwen”. Poets of Contemporary Canada 1960-1970. Montreal: McClelland and Stewart, 1972.

Manhire, Bill."MacEwen, Gwendolyn". The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English. Ian Hamilton (ed). Oxford University Press, 1996. Oxford Reference Online. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 13, 2009.  <>.

Rosenblatt, Joe. The Lunatic Muse. Holstein, Ontario: Exile Editions, 2007.

Woodcock, George & Rosemary Sullivan. "MacEwen, Gwendolyn". The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature. Eugene Benson and William Toye (eds). Oxford University Press 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Concordia University Library, Montreal. November 13, 2009. <>.

“Gwendolyn MacEwen (1941-1987)”. One Zero Zero: A Virtual Library of English Canadian Small Press 1945-2044. December 1, 2009. <>.

Transcription by Rachel Kyne

Print Catalogue, Research, Introduction and Edits by Celyn Harding-Jones

Gwendolyn MacEwen at SGWU, 1966 (with Phyllis Webb)

Catalog numberI006-11-161
NotesReading with Phyllis Webb
Sound qualityGood
SpeakersGwendolyn MacEwen, introduced by Roy Kiyooka
VenueHall Building, Basement Theatre
DateNov. 18, 1966

Supplemental Material


00:00- Roy Kiyooka introduces Gwendolyn MacEwen.

01:47- Gwendolyn MacEwen introduces reading and “The Zoo.” 

02:22- Reads “The Zoo.”

03:38- Introduces “The Taming of the Dragon.” 

03:49- Reads “The Taming of the Dragon.”

04:57- Introduces “The Horse-head Nebula.” 

05:12- Reads “The Horse-head Nebula.”

06:19- Reads “Wheels.”

07:18- Introduces “I Should Have Predicted.” 

07:38- Reads “I Should Have Predicted.”

08:47- Explains “I Should Have Predicted” and introduces “The Heel.”  poem, evolutionary theme; later published in The Shadow-Maker (Macmillan, 1969).]

09:32- Reads “The Heel.”

11:16- Introduces Breakfast for Barbarians.

11:52- Introduces “The Garden of Square Roots: An Autobiography.” 

12:01- Reads “The Garden of Square Roots: An Autobiography.”

13:33- Introduces “Appendectomy.” 

14:20- Reads “Appendectomy.”

14:22- Damage to recording.

14:57- Damage to recording.

15:20- Explains “Appendectomy,” introduces “The Self Assumes.” 

16:08- Reads “The Self Assumes.”

18:01- Introduces “The Caravan.” 

18:23- Reads “The Caravan.”

20:29- Introduces “Arcanum One.”

21:15- Reads “Arcanum One.”

22:35- Introduces “Arcanum Two.”

23:05- Reads “Arcanum Two.”

24:33- Reads “Arcanum Three.”

25:31- Gwendolyn MacEwen thanks the audience.

25:34- Roy Kiyooka thanks Gwendolyn MacEwen, announces date of next reading.