A Poem For Saturday

Jan 18 2014 @ 1:27pm

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

The winsome English poet Stevie Smith (1902-1971) is most famous for the poem we’re posting today and for her legion of admirers—among them Robert Lowell (“On gray days when most modern poetry seems one dull colorless voice speaking through a hundred rival styles, one turns to Stevie Smith and enjoys her unique and cheerfully gruesome voice”) and Sylvia Plath (“I am a desperate Stevie Smith addict”). She was a great chider, as anyone call tell from her poem “To an American Publisher”:

You say I must write another book? But I’ve just written this one.
You liked it so much that’s the reason?  Read it again then.

In a review of her Collected Poems, published in 1975, Seamus Heaney captured the quality of “these odd syncopated melancholy poems” describing how “her gift was to create a peculiar emotional weather between the words, a sense of pity for what is infringed and unfulfilled” citing the poem below as a supreme example. New Directions has a brand new Best Poems: Stevie Smith, richly illustrated with her own drawings, from which we’ll be selecting poems today and in the days ahead.

“Not Waving but Drowning” by Stevie Smith:

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,
They said.

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.

Update from a reader:

Another reason I renewed: “Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:”

(From Best Poems: Stevie Smith © Stevie Smith 1937, 1972 and © New Direction Publishing Corporation 1988, 2014. Reprinted with kind permission of New Directions)