It has all the elements of a romantic adventure novel. There's a wax image of a beautiful poet locked in a box in a warehouse. The face is intended for a public monument, but before it can be cast in bronze, the sculptor, like the poet before him, passes away.
For years the face is hidden, vulnerable to the fires of time, left to stare implacably upon infinity, until finally the poet's fans rise up all across the land to rescue it and honour the poet properly.
And all this despite the poet's own warning. "Avoid monuments," Gwendolyn MacEwen advised in her famous poem Letter To A Future Generation. "Do not excavate our cities / to catalogue the objects of our doom / but burn all you find to make yourselves room, / you have no need of archaeology / your faces are your total history."
Fortunately, MacEwen and her poetry - her true monument - seem to have moved far beyond such forgetting. Since her death in 1987 at the age of 46 in the Annex, she has been the subject of an NFB film, a CBC biography, an award-winning literary biography, a hit play, music compositions, dance choreography and an untold number of poems.
Almost unique in Canadian literary history, she also has a public park named in her honour. But none of this is quite enough for her growing legion of fans. They want that monument. Ardent MacEwenist Randy Resh and his partner, Virginia Dixon, who run the Pteros Gallery on Dundas West, have been trying for the past couple of years to raise the $15,000 necessary to finish casting and installing the bronze bas-relief designed by MacEwen's lifelong friend the late John McCombe Reynolds.
On Saturday (June 5), some of Canada's most accomplished and engaging poets, including Margaret Atwood, Dennis Lee, George Elliott Clarke, bill bisset, Joe Rosenblatt and Griffin Prize-winning disemvoweller Christian Bök, will make a pilgrimage to Gwendolyn MacEwen Park on Walmer north of Bloor for an afternoon of readings and rememberings.
"The event itself is free of charge," Resh tells me, "but we're hoping people will give sizable thank-you donations for the CD." He's referring to the 40 tracks of MacEwen's archival recordings that he's spent the past two years digitally remastering.
We live in a land preternaturally gifted by the muse. Our soils have somehow born the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and Alanis Morissette. But the need to acknowledge such cultural figures in our city is something poet Dennis Lee claims "we've done brilliantly at ignoring."
"When you think that there's nothing in the city that lets you know that Banting and Best discovered insulin here, it's astonishing. Jane Jacobs, Northrop Frye, Tom Thomson, Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould all lived and worked here, but there's nothing to celebrate that. Most cities of stature have a big jump on us, but now there's a chance to do exciting things."
He's referring to "the naming project," his pet initiative as Toronto's first poet laureate. If Lee has his way, many more parks and public squares across the city will be renamed for those "people of consummate dimension" who have lived here. Other than the recently renamed B.P. Nichol Lane, there is nothing to commemorate our great artists, thinkers and pioneers.
One of these, by anybody's estimation, would have to be Oryx And Crake author Atwood. She once made a pilgrimage to Beechy Island in the far north - a journey the young MacEwen described so brilliantly in her poem about the Franklin Expedition, yet one MacEwen made only in her imagination.
"My pilgrimage," Atwood writes, "was undertaken for her. I would go where she'd been unable to go, stand where she had never stood, see what she had seen only with the mind's eye." Seeking to create a personal monument, Atwood tells how she retrieved a single pebble from among the millions at Beechy Island and brought it back to inter in the park in honour of her friend.
And so, for the moment, the waxen image of the poet awaits its appointment with bronze. Significantly, the face is turned to one side, in the style of ancient Egypt, among whose titanic monuments MacEwen spent so much time walking and imagining.
One can't help wondering what this modern-day Nefertiti would have thought of all the adoration. Perhaps June 5 will be a hot day. Maybe just hot enough to penetrate that packing case her face is in - maybe just hot enough to soften the wax at the very corner of her mouth into a reproving smile.