For Gwendolyn MacEwen

Heritage Toronto is due to honour poets and playwrights Milton Acorn and Gwendolyn MacEwen with a plaque on Toronto’s Ward’s Island.

The plaque will be unveiled at a public ceremony on the island at Lakeshore and Second Street on Aug. 29 at 1 p.m. The two were married briefly in 1962, during which time they resided in a Toronto Island home at 10 Second Street.*

How fitting, so close to Gwen’s birthday on September 1.

Please take a look at TVO’s fabulous film on Gwen by Brenda Longfellow.  I hadn’t seen it in years but it is still so brilliant. Poignant and powerful. You can hear Gwen read her poems on

Throughout the decade of the 70’s, I lived on Ward Island, kitty corner at 11 Third St. and then at 14 4th St. We moved there in 1971, after Gwen and Milt had separated: I only knew her in the city. But their house haunted my imagination. Here is my poem for Gwen:

Not Waving But Drowning


The night after what would have been
triumph if you had appeared

you appear, bleary, beckoning to me
against the wall.  Waiting to go on.

You don’t know yet it’s too late.
I’m not the one to tell you
the tide’s out.    An official lures

you away, beloved whale, marooning
slow and sodden, beached somewhere

How can your friends?  Floating in bed
you don’t respond.   Easy answers
swerve off your rounded back.

Doorbell or phone rings in your ears for
ever.   Ship’s knell, melodious backdrop
to your ongoing conversation
with the sea.  When sound

stops.    Your hands
wave across a crowd.  Your fingers
semaphore a complex code
we cannot read.

A ring of hands
ready to catch or pull you up
as you wish.  We grasp nothing
till you reach out.  Unless you hold

So many ways of calling out
for help.   Help.

Penn Kemp

“Not Waving But Drowning” was published in Boneshaker Anthology, Teksteditions, 2015. A videopoem is up on An earlier version of the poem was published in my book Travelling Light, Moonstone Press, and online at

*Excerpted from The photo in the article is of Gwen and Milt in 1960 (courtesy of the Estate of Raymond Souster and Heritage Toronto).


Painting by Jim Kemp


3 thoughts on “For Gwendolyn MacEwen

  1. Penn Kemp says:

    Hope you made it there! The plaque is up.


  2. wow, thank you. i look forward to the event.

    Liked by 1 person

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