Poem for Stevie Smith in a Manner of Stevie Smith

Stevie Smith is stalwart Poe with a sense of humor.
She bakes you a cake and in it you find a tumor.
She proves the recalcitrant reader’s reasoned rumor:
Literature lulls lap then snap you awake in a trap.

Her darling pencil drawings suggest an eye for style.
She invites dog-eared Ogden Nash for toast and tea
Laced with poem poison and sarcastic want to be.
But it’s the simple truth boldly baldly beingly told:

Life’s humongous pimple the poet is unable
To rouge under, and you don’t require Plato to know
The news that tomorrow your plebian tale may go
Away, vanished as miraculously as it came.

Best Poems Stevie Smith“Poem for Stevie Smith in a Manner of Stevie Smith” is not purely in the manner of Stevie Smith. She uses periods, but not necessarily at the end of every sentence, so sparingly, as if a period was a pound and not a penny. And she doesn’t fancy poetic trickery like alliteration. The poems are not bawdy, nor are her poems explicitly about the body. A typical Stevie Smith poem turns on the irony of ordinary thoughts and word play and the insistence that these are what we might be thinking about. The little poem lifts the wafer upward then drops it into the kitchen sink. Stevie was born in 1902 and died in 1971, so the present tense here is as fanciful as the alliteration – though for Poe, alliteration was more than a fancy; it was a terrible tortuous tinnitus bellowing.

“Best Poems,” by Stevie Smith, (reissued as New Directions Paperback number 1271 in 2014), spreads 165 poems and 108 drawings over 151 pages, including a five-page index of titles and first lines.  There are many Stevie Smith lines that might cause a reader to look skyward and reflect. One memorable such line is this one, from “Souvenir de Monsieur Poop” (23):

“I always write more in sorrow than in anger.”

But who is Mr. Poop? Each Stevie Smith poem is a perfect trap, but we pass through the trap and are undeceived, as postmodern as a bath mat.

Stevie Smith Best Poems

29 thoughts on “Poem for Stevie Smith in a Manner of Stevie Smith

    • Thanks, Philippa. I only just recently discovered Stevie. I had taken a look at the collected poems and “Novel on Yellow Paper” (which is actually on yellow paper), from the library, and then found this current “Best Poems,” from ND, and it’s a perfect size (for on the go, sitting in the coffee shop), and I think they’ve done a good job of selection. Apparently too there’s a film with Glenda Jackson from the late 70’s, called “Stevie.” I’m going to search it out this weekend. Freezing here. Just discovered the cold water in the shower is frozen. Stevie would smile at that, no doubt; and connect it somehow to writer’s block (of ice)? Cheerios!

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  1. Loved your poem and your own word play. I was taken by Stevie Smith’s “writing more in sorrow than anger” quote. There is a lot of truth for me in that. I shall carefully eat my morning cake today. B

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    • Thanks, B. Yes, one seems to give way to sorrow over time, but there are poets who make much with anger – Ginsberg’s “Howl” for example, which is also sorrowful and full of joy too though. Go easy on the cake.

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  2. Two of my favorites by her, “Pretty” and “Not Waving but Drowning.” And I think there was one called “The Man from Porlock?” I shall have to look them up again. I think she was ahead of her time. None of her contemporaries wrote quite like her.

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    • Yes, and “Not Waving but Drowning” might make a good title for any poet’s book of poems. … I like your blog format. Read down to the Wallace Stevens post. There’s an interesting short article in today’s Courant about him. He seems to have lived in two worlds, or tried to, or that’s the general interpretation, but one that misses the life of a poet, which can indeed (as your post speaks to) occur anywhere, in anyone. That’s one of the reasons I like Stevie. Anyway, Stevens was a very different kind of poet than Stevie, but he probably liked her, if he read her. From the article, “All lights out at nine…” might make a good poem title also:

      All Lights Out at Nine

      “All lights out at nine”
      in a house like mine
      but after the brushing
      of teeth and now
      I lay me’s
      he doesn’t see
      the flashlight
      in the tent.

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