“The Great Dreams Pass On”: Phyllis Webb’s “Struggles of Silence”


Phyllis Webb’s poetic career is divided by a fifteen-year publication gap: she wrote three full volumes before 1965 and three full volumes after 1980, but in the interim she only produced a handful of publishable poems. Far from being a period of absence of withdrawal, however, this was a dynamic stage of artistic growth. In the 1960s, Webb began work on an ambitious project titled “The Kropotkin Poems,” but the project would never come together as she had hoped, and her obsession with this “failure” left her temporarily stymied. The organization of Wilson’s Bowl (1980) records Kropotkin’s disappearance as the poet finally let go of the blockage that had held her back for over a decade. Webb’s later poetry is revitalized by the accumulation of frustrated creative potential and its powerful release: in other words, the voice that she would develop was directly enabled by her “struggles of silence.”

This article ““The Great Dreams Pass On”: Phyllis Webb’s “Struggles of Silence”” originally appeared in Gendering the Archive. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 217 (Summer 2013): 72-86.

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