As her biographer Rosemary Sullivan discovered, there were many reasons why her life lasted just as long as it did, and no longer.
The Fire-Eaters (1976), a slim, scattered volume, receives slight attention, as does Afterworlds.Rosemary Sullivan, in her introduction to Exile Editions 1994 issue of Mac Ewens selected poems, writes that "Afterworlds seems to offer an uncanny sense of looking back and summing up.The particular horrors of the present civilization have been painted starkly enough. Surely the mind deals with its pains in its own time, as the body does. And all the diversities which get absorbed can later work their way out into fantastic things, like hawk-training, IBM programming, mountain-climbing, or poetry.The key theme of things is alienation, the exile from our own inventions, and hence from ourselves. This introduction puts forth a position essentially identical with that evident in "The Breakfast," the first poem in The Rising Fire.One cannot help but contrast this with Mac Ewens later years, when she could be found drinking alone, keeping her friends "in separate pockets" (Sullivan 381), finding loneliness harder and harder to bear, and with her choice of Ezra Pounds lines as an epigraph for Afterworlds: In Warwicks view, Mac Ewens belief that there is "more room inside than outside," together with the imaginary leaps into the past and into the future which are so common in her work, indicate a compulsion to synthesize, to make whole.
"Only by taking the necessary step first," writes Warwick, "that of encircling and absorbing all, can the poet hope to transform reality into some significant whole" (Warwick 28).
Other poems seem to re-work earlier material, and the volume also includes "Terror and Erebus," a verse-drama written originally for CBC radio in 1965.
It is perhaps tempting to view The Rising Fire and Afterworlds, then, not as vitally important parts of Mac Ewens poetic oeuvre, but as overture and coda to her poetic career.
The circle is endless, yet we can see it all at once.
This representation of the infinite in a limited material reality is one of the major functions of poetic language, and probably the deepest fundamental force underlying Gwendolyn Mac Ewens poetic life.
Leviathans and bestiaries will fit inside you, Mac Ewen assures; the sum and the moon will fit too, if you "hold the spoon in your hand up to the sky / and marvel at its relative size" (3).