Celebration! On the final Saturday of the 2011 Melbourne Writers Festival, one of Australia’s greatest poets came back into glorious print.
To celebrate the occasion, several leading Melbourne poets were invited to read one or two poems each from the brilliant new Collected Poems of Francis Webb. This was a lush moment, a time to give full voice to Webb’s richly layered poetry through several different voices and reading styles. The original reading list was: Jordie Albiston, Diane Fahey, Jennifer Harrison, Philip Salom, Alex Skovron and Chris Wallace-Crabbe.
With the Collected Poems of Francis Webb now on sale, Australian poetry readers have available, for the first time in more than 30 years, the full output of this magnificent and influential poet. These versions of the poems are the latest, corrected versions, incorporating all of Webb’s intended alterations and changes (such as the thematic shift from death to one of light, or implied resurrection, in the final couplet of Nessun Dorma). These details have been studiously researched and presented by Toby Davidson, and the book itself is published by the University of Western Australia Press.
For the actual reading, Petra White read in place of Jordie, who was unable to make the event. Each of us spoke briefly of our experiences of Webb’s poetry and gave individual insights into its extraordinary power and complexity. It is not ‘easy’ poetry to read and nor is it easy to perform, but I feel it’s fair to say … we gave it an unusually articulate and insightful performance. We admire his work; we made it a point of honour to prepare. Francis Webb is back in print where in virtual sense he has always been – as the poet many Australian poets name as their greatest national influence. He’s strikingly original – but very very real.