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Poetry Canadian

Peacock Blue

The Collected Poems

by (author) Phyllis Webb

edited by John F. Hulcoop

Initial publish date
Sep 2015
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2015
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2014
    List Price

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When Phyllis Webb published Wilson’s Bowl in 1980, Northrop Frye hailed it as “a landmark in Canadian literature”: landmark, an event that marks a turning point in something (in this case, Canadian literature); and an instantly recognized feature of a landscape (in this case, the landscape of Canadian poetry). Wilson’s Bowl was Webb’s fifth volume of poetry. Three more followed and then she fell silent, turning from literature to abstract painting.

Peacock Blue compiles in a single volume all of Webb’s published, unpublished, and uncollected works from a writing career that spanned fifty years. It offers readers the opportunity to relish the arc of Webb’s entire poetic oeuvre, from the modernist lyricism of her early works, to the groundbreaking volume, Naked Poems (1965), in which Webb created for herself a new minimalist language; from Wilson’s Bowl to what Douglas Barbour calls “Webb’s loving and subversive engagement with the ghazal” in Water and Light (1984); and finally to the postmodernist prose poems of Hanging Fire (1990).

The concluding section of Peacock Blue contains almost fifty poems, some of which have never been published before. It also includes brilliant but forgotten poems and poetic surprises. Brenda Carr has suggested that one of Webb’s later essays, “Message Machine” (1990), “initiates a re-reading of her poetics and practice … Against her anxiety that she is a passive ‘message machine’ for masculinist culture.” However, as Carr points out, “Webb posits another possibility – ‘cross-dressing.’ She theorizes her mimicry of the male persona as analogous to a ‘masquerade’ or ‘street theatre’ and in so doing reconstructs even her earlier poems as a performative space in which agency is possible.” The truth of Carr’s insight becomes increasingly apparent to anyone who undertakes to read through Webb’s entire poetic output, gathered together, at last, in Peacock Blue.

About the authors

Phyllis Webb
Phyllis Webb worked for many years as a writer and broadcaster for the CBC, where she created the radio program “Ideas” in 1965 and was its executive producer from 1967 to 1969.

Her 1980 work Wilson’s Bowl was hailed by Northrop Frye as “a landmark in Canadian poetry.”

As Stephen Scobie once wrote, the work of Phyllis Webb “has always been distinguished by the profundity of her insights, the depth of her emotional feeling, the delicacy and accuracy of her rhythms, the beauty and mysterious resonance of her images—and by her luminous intelligence.”

Phyllis Webb received the BC Gas Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, the Order of Canada in 1992, and the 1982 Governor General’s Award for Selected Poems: The Vision Tree.

Phyllis Webb's profile page

John F. Hulcoop's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Surely, Peacock Blue is the literary event of the year. Reading this life-in-words, it is obvious that Al Purdy is not now our reigning voice – Phyllis Webb is. She has engendered her full scope – by silences – by retreats – unto a woman’s lyric authority.”
Malahat Review

“[Phyllis Webb] has always been distinguished by the profundity of her insights, the depth of her emotional feeling, the delicacy and accuracy of her rhythms, the beauty and mysterious resonance of her images—and by her luminous intelligence.”
—Stephen Scobie

“Webb’s poetic oeuvre displays a range and formal daring … unmatched in Canadian letters. … she has been and remains one of our finest, most linguistically sensitive poets. … Peacock Blue should long have a place in any and all CanLit libraries”
Canadian Literature

“a vibrant intelligence coupled with a wry wit … Webb’s dedication to social justice is evident in her poetry. … It’s evident from this book that Webb knew many of the major Canadian writers. She dedicates poems to many writers, she refers to writers, and she celebrates the words of others. Trying to capture [this volume] in a review is like trying to catch wind. There’s too much and it’s too powerful. Ultimately all I can say is [‘Read this poet’].”
Maple Tree Literary Supplement

“a philosophical poet par excellence.”
—Stephen Collis

“Reading her work this way is like watching the seasons change, for people who have been writing as many years as she has don’t ordinarily stand still for long. … she has remained active politically, gradually settling on a mixture of anarchism, feminism and environmentalism that is to be found only on the West Coast. … Peacock Blue is a most important book. It’s both a testament and a trophy.”
Vancouver Sun

About Naked Poems (1965):
Naked Poems … is one of the most influential works of its time, for it suggested a new vision of the book-length poem which profoundly affected a number of poets in the following literary generations. Full of lyric intensity yet transcending mere lyric posturing, Naked Poems is Canada’s first masterpiece of process poetics, a series of precisely crafted minimal texts which remain open to the possibilities of what the third section calls the ‘Non Linear.’ Robert Kroetsch has made perhaps the finest and most concise statement about this innovative and concise work: ‘On nakedness and lyric and yet on a way out, perhaps a way out of the ending of the lyric too, with its ferocious principles of closure, a being compelled out of lyric by lyric.’”
Canadian Encyclopedia

Other titles by Phyllis Webb

A Dream in the Eye

The Complete Paintings and Collages of Phyllis Webb

edited by Stephen Collis
illustrated by Phyllis Webb
contributions by Diana Hayes, Betsy Warland & Laurie White


by (author) Gabrielle Roy
afterword by Phyllis Webb

Writing the Terrain

Travelling Through Alberta with the Poets

contributions by Ian Adam, Robert Stamp, Tammy Armstrong, Margaret Avison, Douglas Barbour, John O. Barton, Doug Beardsley, Bonnie Bishop, E.D. Blodgett, Robert Boates, George Bowering, Tim Bowling, Jan Boydol, Gordon Burles, Murdoch Burnett, Anne Campbell, Weyman Chan, Leonard Cohen, Dennis Cooley, Joan Crate, Michael Cullen, Cyril Dabydeen, Lorne Daniel, Alexa DeWiel, Jason Dewinetz, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cecelia Frey, Gary Geddes, Gail Ghai, Deborah Godin, Jim Green, Leslie Greentree, Vivian Hansen, Tom Henihan, Michael Henry, Walter Hildebrandt, Gerald Hill, Robert Hilles, Nancy Holmes, Richard Hornsey, Tom Howe, Aislinn Hunter, Bruce Hunter, Laurence Hutchman, Sally Ito, Pauline Johnson, Aleksei Kazuk, Robert Kroetsch, Fiona Lam, William Latta, Tim Lilburn, Alice Major, Kim Maltman, Miriam Mandel, Sid Marty, David McFadden, Barry McKinnon, Erin Michie, Deborah Miller, Anna Mioduchowska, James M. Moir, Colin Morton, Erín Moure, Charles Noble, P.K. Page, Rajinderpal Pal, Ruth Roach Pierson, Joseph Pivato, Roberta Rees, D.C. Reid, Monty Reid, R. rickey, Ken Rivard, Stephen Scobie, Allan Serafino, Joan Shillington, Greg Simison, Carol Ann Sokoloff, Karen Solie, Stephan Stephansson, Peter Stevens, Ivan Sundal, Anne Swannell, Vanna Tessier, Colleen Thibadeau, John O. Thompson, James M. Thurgood, Eva Tihanyi, Yvonne Trainer, Aritha van Herk, Rosalee van Stelten, Miriam Waddington, James Wreford Watson, Wilfred Watson, Tom Wayman, Phyllis Webb, Jon Whyte, Christine Wiesenthal, Sheri-D Wilson, Christopher Wiseman, Stacie Wolfer, Rita Wong, Richard Woollatt & Jan Zwicky

The Griffin Poetry Prize 2004 Anthology

A Selection of the 2004 Shortlist

edited by Phyllis Webb

Nothing But Brush Strokes

Selected Prose

by (author) Phyllis Webb

Hanging Fire

by (author) Phyllis Webb

Selected Poems

The Vision Tree

by (author) Phyllis Webb

Other titles by John F. Hulcoop

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