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‘Time for a wider Webb’ by Simon Patton

August 1991, no. 133

‘Time for a wider Webb’ by Simon Patton

August 1991, no. 133

But I have chosen the little, obscure way
In the dim, shouting vortex; I have taken
A fool’s power in his cap and bells

He described himself as a ‘no-hoper’ (he died in a mental hospital in the poverty of his poetry and Catholic faith). These days, the label ‘a poet’s poet’ is sufficient to scare off anyone interested in approaching a body of work that is both substantial and challenging. With the publication of this annotated collection, containing most of Webb’s known poetry and extracts from his verse dramas, it is just a little dispiriting to see Webb’s work acquire a whiff of canonical sanctity. A short, cautious introduction by the editors Michael Griffith and James McGlade concludes with the respectful praises of five eminent Australian poets, as if a show of hands from the panel of distinguished experts were enough to explain anything of the enigma of Frank Webb to someone coming across his work for the first time. I think he deserves more. In an age where packaging plays such a conspicuous role, it is time to rescue Webb from the shrine of Tradition and to make an effort towards attracting new readers to a poet who magnificently defies idle curiosity.

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