Phyllis Webb spat blood. Brian Brett hissed at the sunset. Sandwiched between these two poetic powerhouses Lorraine Gane and Diana Hayes grounded 60+ audience members by unearthing selections from Webb’s vast new collection, Peacock Blue. The April 15th reading was hosted by the Salt Spring Island Library and sponsored the Association of Book Publishers of BC.
It was an evening of places and beasts. We watched as Brett’s ashes scattered then sank to the seafloor at Rebecca’s Spit, his “toxins and dioxins” building cities for his beloved from lumbering cedar. The centre-piece of his performance was a libretto for Yukon watersheds.
Brett takes us to a place “where stones are born,” where uranium conspicuously lazes amongst its cousins, and where He – a puny-handed shadow in a grizzly’s print – tracks Himself into a chain of previous inattentions: of fox to mink, moose to fox, wolf to moose. Oh woeful moose!
It is a simple truth that Phyllis Webb’s physicality is waning. Yet as she rounded the lectern and aimed herself in our direction out came a basso profundo of crimson vitality: “I am wearing absent-minded red/slippers and a red vest -/spots of blood…”
We sit with Webb in front of her radio, listening to Dracula recount disappointment. We regard Webb’s proximity to “14,000 rats and the citizens of Delft,/for the women of the world and their menses” and watch in awe as our soul of the universe stands “Breathing poppies. Thinking.”
The strength of her voice lifts us out of our chairs and onto a beach. Webb, who for many years held ‘deep-south’ Saltspring status, is intimately familiar with the eccentric and predictable comings and goings of this little community. They share the stage with her.
“Four swans in Fulford Harbour…” In a miracle of movement her words locate a creative, resilient space between wind and wing that resists being named as either. “Uprush of inspiration brush past the broken shell of my ear.” Indeed.