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Seeing in the Dark

The Poetry of Phyllis Webb

By Pauline Butling
Subjects Poetry, Literary Criticism
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Paperback : 9780889202719, 198 pages, March 1997


Poet Phyllis Webb initiated new ways of seeing into the cultural “dark” of Western thought. By blurring the axis between “light” and “dark,” she redefined in positive terms women’s subjectivity and sexuality, which are traditionally assigned “dark” negative values.

Seeing in the Dark includes perceptive discussions on a number of Webb’s collections, specifically Naked Poems, Wilson’s Bowl, Water and Light and Hanging Fire. Butling shows how Webb uses strategies of subversion, reversal and re-vision of prevailing traditions and tropes to facilitate “seeing in the dark. ” She also provides a fascinating analysis of Webb criticism — tracing it over the past thirty years and revealing a shift in critical paradigms. A chapter on biography includes intriguing archival material.

Pauline Butling offers important new ways of reading one of Canada’s finest poets. Seeing in the Dark is essential introductory material for the general reader and provides provocative penetrating analysis for literary scholars.


``Butling's careful readings of Webb's poems are nuanced and perceptive, and her argument that Webb's poetics enact a feminist politics of social change is persuasive. Her study represents a substantial contribution to the critical literature on the work of this fascinating and often quite difficult poet. ''

- Linda Lamont-Stewart, University of Toronto Quarterly

``[This] . .. is one of the most important studies of contemporary Canadian poetry to appear in recent years. Phyllis Webb has long deserved such a careful, innovative, and challenging critique. ... This is a necessary book. ''

- Douglas Barbour