Poetry Season

Local Navigation

Local Navigation

Stevie Smith 1902-1971

Biography

Deceptively simple, Stevie Smith's poems penetrate straight to the heart of life's greatest fears and anxieties. Set in melancholy suburbia, her poems speak of the disappointed, the wretched and the lonely - typified by her most famous poem, Not Waving But Drowning. Her monologues are often gleefully macabre, adopting the voice of a wise child to point out bitter truths.

Florence Smith was born in Hull in 1902 but moved to London after her father deserted the family in 1906, where she lived in the same house in Palmer Green, up until her death from a brain tumour in 1971. Her gamine looks earned her the androgynous nick-name 'Stevie' and despite several love affairs (and a close friendship with George Orwell) she shunned the compromises of married life. For 30 bored and under-valued years Smith worked as a secretary, retiring in her early fifties following a suicide attempt at her office desk. Death and the fear of life are subjects she returns to.

Getting published required considerable tenacity. Her first work was the fiction Novel on Yellow Paper. Poetry collections include A Good Time Was Had By All (1937) and Not Waving But Drowning (1957), illustrated throughout with her own scratchy drawings. Interest in Smith's work grew throughout the 1960s, and she became a popular performer, often dressing school-girlishly, and chanting her verses off-key to the tunes of hymns.

Is Smith
the Nation's
Favourite Poet?

FIND OUT HERE

I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith

Not Waving but Drowning

There are no longer poems available for this poet

VOTE RESULTS >

The Nation's Favourite Poet

Ian McMillan

Discover

Watch Ian McMillan's tips on writing poems for special occasions

Related Links

Poetry Out Loud logo

BBC Arts: Poetry Out Loud

Stevie Smith reads Not Waving But Drowning

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.