Creative writing is plodding along at the moment. Mostly doing lots of logistics and figuring out which characters are going to be where/how similar they’re going to be to their original formulations. Also argh… so, let’s talk poetry instead!
One of my favourite poets that I’d like to mention today is a woman named Stevie Smith. An English poet who lived between 1902 and 1971, Smith is something of an unexpected poetic figure. She did not outwardly appear to be very controversial, and led what appeared to be a very quiet life, notable in that she was raised by her mother, and then her aunt, and did not interact with many men at all. She was an intensely independent individual, with a vivid imagination but also a strong awareness of the gulfs between internal and external lives.
Interesting Features of her Poetry: Smith’s work is very easy to read. It seems almost naïve and childish at times, with simple traditional formulations or occasionally more modernist structures, but there is always a stark undercurrent somewhere. Twee rhyme schemes always convey something sharper. This ties into Smith’s own self-professed idea that poetry is all about “strong communication”, while the role of the poet is unimportant. She also drew nursery-rhyme like drawings to accompany some works.
Some favourite poems: “Mother among the dustbins” is a fantastic contemplation on the distance between religious beliefs and everyday events, bridged by a hierarchy that does not answer back and holds the speaker in a state of constant uncertainty. Her most famous poem, “Not waving but drowning”, demonstrates a public with a dispassionate or uncomprehending approach towards the internal, individual self, as opposed to external behaviours and social niceties. “Alone in the woods” continues in this vein of thought, linking this time the individual self to the natural world and recognising another, similar lack of understanding and its destructive repercussions.
Mother among the dustbins
Mother, among the dustbins and the manure
I feel the measure of my humanity, an allure
As of the presence of God, I am sure
In the dustbins, in the manure, in the cat at play,
Is the presence of God, in a sure way
He moves there. Mother, what do you say?
I too have felt the presence of God in the broom
I hold, in the cobwebs in the room,
But most of all in the silence of the tomb.
Ah! but that thought that informs the hope of our kind
Is but an empty thing, what lies behind? —
Naught but the vanity of a protesting mind
That would not die. This is the thought that bounces
Within a conceited head and trounces
Inquiry. Man is most frivolous when he pronounces.
Well Mother, I shall continue to think as I do,
And I think you would be wise to do so too,
Can you question the folly of man in the creation of God?
Who are you?
Not waving but drowning
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
Alone in the woods
Alone in the woods I felt
The bitter hostility of the sky and the trees
Nature has taught her creatures to hate
Man that fusses and fumes
As the sap rises in the trees
As the sap paints the trees a violent green
So rises the wrath of Nature’s creatures
So paints the face of Nature a violent green.
Nature is sick at man
Sick at his fuss and fume
Sick at his agonies
Sick at his gaudy mind
That drives his body
Ever more quickly
More and more
In the wrong direction.
You can find more works by Stevie Smith here: http://www.poemhunter.com/stevie-smith/ – they’re quick reads and well worth the time!