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Stevie Smith 1902-1971


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.

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

Stevie Smith

Not Waving but Drowning

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Stevie Smith reads Not Waving But Drowning

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