Phyllis Webb and the Common GoodFront Cover

ISBN: 9780889225596 | paperback / softback

$24.95 | 224 pages | Pub. Date: 2007 | Edition # 1
6.00 W × 9.00 H × 1 D inches
Non-Fiction | Backlist | Bisac: LIT014000
ISBN 13: 9780889225596 | Rights: WORLD

Phyllis Webb and the Common Good
Poetry/Anarchy/Abstraction
By Stephen Collis

Phyllis Webb is a poet around whom archetypes tend to cluster: the reclusive artist; the distraught, borderline suicidal Sapphic woman poet. While on the surface she seems someone supremely disinterested in the public sphere, argues Stephen Collis in this brilliant and revealing new celebration of her work, Webb is no domestic, as a creator or a critic. Her work sweeps into the wilds of politics, philosophy, economics and her slim books speak volumes. If there is a sense of abandoned projects hovering as ghosts on the margins of her books it is a purposeful abandonment, an anarchist’s abdication of positions of power and authority.

Webb’s work points steadily towards the idea that the poem is not a commodity to be hoarded, but a response-ability to be shared, an aspect of the commons and our “common good.” The gradual dissolution of the lyric I traceable over the course of her writing career mirrors both the development of avant-garde poetics across the century and the anarchist inflected notion of the poem as a common property —an effect of language (the commons) and not the self (the private).

In this sense Collis reads Webb’s poetry as it conjoins (and simultaneously diverges from) various twentieth-century literary movements and moments—it is this tension in her work which makes Webb a modernist whose writing nevertheless provides an opening into postmodernism. Her work constructs bridges across numerous conceptual divides: the (porous) boundaries between poetry and painting, poetry and politics, modernism and postmodernism, the lyric and the long poem, the ontologies of the self and the other.

The changes across decades of Webb’s writing, Collis argues, mirror changes in the approaches of the twentieth-century avant-garde to questions of responsibility and abstraction, locating her work in the Image-Nation of radical, philosophically engaged poetries that have flourished throughout twentieth-century North America.

By Stephen Collis

Sophie Bienvenu is a Québécois writer. After studying visual communication in Paris, she settled in Quebec in 2001 and quickly established herself as a successful blogger. Et au pire, on se mariera (La Mèche) her first novel, was followed by Chercher Sam (translation forthcoming from Talonbooks, 2019), and Autour d’elle, translated as Around Her by Rhonda Mullins (Talonbooks, 2018). Ceci n’est pas de l’amour (This Is Not Love) was her first poetry collection, published in 2016 by Poètes de brousse. Bienvenu’s writing takes its readers on an emotional journey, an intense exploration of profoundly human characters, transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Read more about Stephen Collis


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news | 2013-06-03
Phyllis Webb in the Poet’s Corner of the Sunday Times

…Talon has also published a study of Webb’s work: Phyllis Webb and the Common Good by Stephen Collis. Webb currently lives and …


events | 2012-10-26
Adeena Karasick and Stephen Collis at Zinc Bar, New York

…also written two books of criticism, including Phyllis Webb and the Common Good (Talonbooks, 2007), and a forthcoming novel, The …