The ‘mad genius’ poet of Chatswood

Just across the road from Prime Education at Willoughby Library, on Saturday 25th of August, there will be a free public reading event from 2-4pm to celebrate the life of Francis Webb: Chatswood’s very own ‘mad genius’ poet.

A student at Pius X, Francis began attracting attention for his poems while he was still in school. His mental health declined soon after, and he was placed in Callan Park Hospital for the Insane. One famous story about him is that, while on day release, a mother on a Sydney Tram asked him to hold her baby while she attended to something. The poet cried, grateful to be trusted with something so important. Especially at a time when people with mental health issues were usually feared.

One of the most famous works of the poet, ‘Ward Two’ details his life and the life of his fellow inmates in the Callan Park asylum:

Ward Two


It’s the day for writing that letter, if one is able,
And so the striped institutional shirt is wedged
Between this holy chair and table.
He has purloined paper, he has begged and cadged
The bent institutional pen,
The ink. And our droll old men
Are darting constantly where he weaves his sacrament.
Sacrifice? Propitiation?
All are blent in the moron’s painstaking fingers – so painstaking….

The ‘mad genius’ poet himself

Francis Webb is one of Australia’s serious contributions to English literature. The works of the poet would also make great additional material for students in Year Eleven who are about to transition to the new HSC syllabus.

Contemporary Australian poets and film makers will be gathering at Willoughby Library to give selected readings and talks about Webb’s life. The general public are welcome to come along to the event to gain some insight into the contribution that the poet made.

For more information or to RSVP for the event, simply contact Willoughby Library.

Poetry - work of a poet

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