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Seeing in the Dark

The Poetry of Phyllis Webb

Pauline Butling

Paper 198 pp.

ISBN13: 978-0-88920-271-9

Release Date: March 1997

Online discount: 25%

$42.99  $32.24


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.

Pauline Butling teaches Canadian literature and cultural studies in the Humanities Department at the Alberta College of Art and Design. Her previous work on Phyllis Webb includes editing a Festschrift (West Coast Line Number Six) in 1992.


“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

Seeing in the Dark

Related interest

Literary criticism


By the same author

Writing in Our Time: Canada’s Radical Poetries in English (1957-2003), Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy