Monday, 2 June 2014

Poem of the Week: Papa Love Baby


My mother was a romantic girl
So she had to marry a man with his hair in curl
Who subsequently became my unrespected papa,
But that was a long time ago now.

What folly it is that daughters are always supposed to be 
In love with papa.  It wasn't the case with me
I couldn't take to him at all
But he took to me
What a sad fate to befall
A child of three.

I sat upright in my baby carriage
And wished mama hadn't made such a foolish marriage.
I tried to hide it, but it showed in my eyes unfortunately
And a fortnight later papa ran away to sea.

He used to come home on leave
It was always the same
I could not grieve
But I think I was somewhat to blame.

I recently went to see a play called 'Stevie' at Chichester Festival Theatre, in which Zoe Wanamaker - also seen as Madam Hooch in Hooch in Harry Potter among other roles - played the titular part (with outstanding stamina and lack of care for her health - she appears, dragging theatrically on an ever-present cigarette, in every scene of the 2 hour play).  

The play documented the life of the poet Stevie Smith who was the amused and amusing voice of the suburban masses throughout the 1940s and 50s.  Stevie (born Florence) Smith grew up in a troubled household and she came to blame herself for her father's desertion of their family.  Her obsession with death and fear and later religion are very much present in her poetry, although she laces these poignant and pithy poems with sardonic humour which (although they can be seen as flippant) make them all the more powerful.  

Although I could only vaguely remember the poem 'Not Waving But Drowning' - read it, trust me its multi-faceted viewpoint and the last vivid line will stay with you  - I was previously unaware of the great body of poems, as amusing as they are contemplative, that she had written during her long, independent, and sometimes undoubtedly lonely life.

This poem draws to mind an image of the petite, bobbed Stevie Smith narrating her poem to a faceless audience (which reads as if it is meant to be heard) in a careless manner, which serves as armour the more sensitive, impressionable child which hides inside her.  Although this poem is funny at times 'But he took to me / what a sad fate to befall / A child of three' it is also beautifully melancholy when one thinks about Stevie's actual ruptured childhood.

So: read more Stevie Smith, you will be among good company - Sylvia Plath was a self-proclaimed 'desperate Smith-addict' as was Smith's good friend and fellow literary genius George Orwell - she deserves to be rediscovered within a modern audience. 

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