I have just read an article about a poet that I'm unfamiliar with, Stevie Smith and I have not as yet read any of her work. Already I feel quite perturbed on her behalf at the tone of the article. As a poet, novelist and writer I feel affronted on her behalf.
Stevie Smith 1902 - 1971
My effrontery springs from the fact that the writer of the article is classifying Smith's work as 'childish' as being produced by 'a savant that has never grown up' and more. It mentions that she lived her whole life in suburbia as if that was some kind of curse on the ability to write. When will critics begin looking at art for its own sake rather than the circumstances of the person who produce it? I don't accept that it is so they can better understand where the work came from, it is my belief that it is so the work can be slotted into false categories which are the creation of the so-called 'educated classes'.
It is my submission that art of every type is the culmination of effort on behalf of the individual who has produced it, for the reasons personal to them and that it isn't the intellectual property of anyone else. When I write blog, poetry or stories what comes out is the result of my thought processes, my experiences, my emotions and my background. If I had gone to public school then it wouldn't have made me a better writer from an imaginative point of view, I may have been technically better but that bus has left the station, my work is from me as I am now and I have no wish to be categorised by some anally retentive public school hack.
So to consider Stevie Smith.
She was actually born in Hull, but must have moved to London early in her life, where she died in 1971.
She wrote three novels as well as her poetry. Her novels were 'A Novel on Yellow Paper', 'Over the Frontier' and 'The Holiday'. There are many more collections of poetry some of which were illustrated by Stevie Smith. One of her most famous poems and one often taught in schools is 'Not Waving, But Drowning'. (Even in this article supposedly supporting Smith's work it is dismissed as not one of her best works!)
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.
Stevie Smith 1957
Now I would never criticise another poet because poetry is a personal expression of emotion. I may not enjoy a piece or I may love it, but how dare someone suggest that there is anything wrong with the poem. It is filled with deeper meaning, it is full of clarity, and it is succinct. You critics should not assume that a 250 verse poem is better than a 3 stanza effort! I actually like this and could see children abstracting a deal of interesting work from the work.
Having now read a number of Stevie Smith's poems I find that her message is succinctly and cleverly delivered. Some of her work is no more than four lines long and yet the meaning is clear and the emotion tangible.
It strikes me that critics can be labelled as teachers are on occasions,
'those who can do, those who can't criticise'