I came to this book by way of Gary Geddes’s 20th-Century Poetry & Poetics. Despite my own reticence at talking about process, I’ve recently been interested in hearing poets talk about their work and lives. I’m finding that this practice enhances my appreciation for their poetry. I think it’s important to understand that these people were all just that: people. While a great many of the older ones led pampered lives of relative luxury, far more were trainwrecks.
Webb doesn’t get into her personal life much here, but she does go on at length about her influences. There is a standout chapter, On the Line, in which she responds to a process-based letter from Geddes. If only one chapter lived in this book, I would hope it would be that one.
The second part of the book is dedicated to the literary reviews that Webb wrote. You may have noticed my own attempts to write about the books I read, and I wouldn’t personally call them reviews, especially not after reading Webb’s. I feel one must be more widely read and better educated than I to offer a truly in-depth examination of any book; just as how I feel that the trick to writing halfway decent poetry is simply knowing how to use a lot of different words. It all comes down to fluency.
I left part two of the book with a handful of solid recommendations along with the reminder that Leonard Cohen was a poet, and a Canadian one at that. Webb, too. I’ve come to everything on my journey through poetry organically, and it is surprising how much Canadian content has been presented by the universe. Which flies in the face of what a lot of these 20th-century Canadian poets lamented: that no one would read their work and Canadian poetry lived in a vacuum.
In 2023 either that’s not true or I’m huffing some incredibly rarified air.