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Mermaids and Ikons

A Greek Summer

Written by Gwendolyn MacEwen • Introduction by Rosemary Sullivan

Published August 26, 2017 | ISBN 9781487002633

Cover of Mermaids and Ikons

Regular price $14.95 CAD

120 pages | 8.5 in × 5.5 in
Print Format

Also Available as an Ebook

About this book

Mermaids and Ikons

A Greek Summer

Gwendolyn MacEwen • Rosemary Sullivan

The island is shy and exuberant, savage and fair, bold yet self-effacing. It is a woman in heat, a man in despair, a blonde horse at sunset, a riot of fig trees, a flaking white salt bed, an arid garden of thyme and oregano, a hundred clotheslines full of octopi hung up to dry, a warm night of fireflies and tiny shrimps with burning eyes.

In her first work of nonfiction, Mermaids and Ikons: A Greek Summer, originally published in 1978, beloved poet and novelist Gwendolyn MacEwen explores her strongly personal responses to a complex civilization. Partly written during a trip to Greece in 1971, MacEwen moves from the urban tumult of Athens to the radiant simplicity of an island in the Aegean.

In this intimate and exquisitely written travel diary, she evokes the very spirit of Greece — the exuberance of the people, the sun-drenched landscape, and the shaping power of ancient traditions and myths in modern Mediterranean life.

This edition features a new introduction by the award-winning biographer Rosemary Sullivan.


The windows of the night train revealed a landscape almost lunar in its starkness. The trail hugged a wall of rock made steel blue by midnight; the mountainside had the consistency of quicksilver. When we passed over the bridge at the great canal of Corinth, we seemed to be suspended in a hunk of purple midnight space. Everything dwarfed us. We were on our way to Mycenae.

The next morning, rainwater turned red as blood in the hollows of the stones in Corinth. Nikos and I stood in the ancient agora and gazed up at the mountain where holy whores once had their temple; a Byzantine castle now clings precariously to the summit. Everything’s so big in this country, I thought. What is it? Everything’s stretching and reaching and gasping for more and more space. The infamous light seems to yank things out of their contexts and present them naked and fullblown to the eye. Everything demands attention; there is nothing subtle about Greece.

About the Author

Gwendolyn MacEwen

Gwendolyn MacEwen was born in Toronto in 1941. The author of numerous books of poetry, including The Shadow Maker and Afterworlds, which both won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. She also published novels, plays, travel memoirs, and children’s books. MacEwen died in 1987.

Rosemary Sullivan

Awards and Praise

“I still remember the initial impact Gwendolyn MacEwen had on me at the Bohemian Embassy in 1960: ‘Where did this come from? How come she’s so young? And what is this unearthly being?’” — Margaret Atwood [From the cover of The Selected Gwendolyn MacEwen, Exile Editions, 2007]

“Gwendolyn MacEwen seemed to many an exotic and mesmerizing presence. In less than twenty-six years she published twenty books and became with Margaret Atwood the most celebrated poet of her day.” — Rosemary Sullivan, The Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwen