UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 1 | Jan.
Friendship contributes to exhibit on poet's work
National library pays tribute to UBC alumna, Phyllis Webb
by Michelle Cook staff writer
Although his 40-year friendship with one of Canada's finest poets,
Phyllis Webb, got off to a rocky start, English Prof. Emeritus John
Hulcoop had no reservations about contributing his extensive knowledge
to a recently opened National Library of Canada exhibition about
her work and life.
When English-born Hulcoop first met Phyllis Webb in Vancouver in
1960, he found her rather prickly. Webb, a UBC graduate, suspected
him of harbouring colonialist attitudes about Canada. Eventually
he fell in love -- not with Webb, but with her poetry. He began
to review and write articles about her work.
Webb went on to work as a writer and producer at the CBC and continued
to write poetry, winning the Governor General's Literary Award in
1982 for her collection of poetry, The Vision Tree.
The significant body of critical analysis Hulcoop produced on Webb's
work over the years attracted the attention of the National Library
and Hulcoop, who taught at UBC from 1956-92, was asked to curate
a new exhibition about Webb's work and life. Hulcoop also contributed
some of the letters, postcards, photos and other items in the exhibit.
The exhibition, "Phyllis Webb: Elemental," traces the poet's life
through a collection of photographs, artwork, manuscripts, and first
editions arranged into four sections: earth, air, fire and water
-- recurring themes in Webb's work. It also celebrates her role
as a social activist throughout her life.
"I was honoured to be asked to create this exhibit on Phyllis Webb,"
Hulcoop says from his home in Vancouver. "It was tremendously satisfying
to feel that I could help show Canada what an extraordinary woman
she is and what she has contributed to Canadian culture and society."
Born in Victoria in 1927, Webb graduated from UBC in 1949 and later
returned to campus to teach.
While working at the CBC, Webb helped create the program Ideas.
She also produced a 10-part series on Canadian poets that helped
generate interest in contemporary Canadian poetry in the 1970s.
While her collection of poems, The Vision Tree, won a Governor
General's Award, Canada's literary community created an uproar when
Webb's preceding volume, Wilson's Bowl, failed to win, and
writers including Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje protested
Webb no longer writes but paints. She lives on Saltspring Island.
The exhibit continues at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa
until Feb. 28.