Perhaps the only statement with which all of her critics would agree is that from 1934, when she first attempted to publish, to the present day, more than thirty years after her acceptance of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and her death shortly thereafter, Stevie Smith has most often been classified as an enigma. Her tragicomic poems have dumbfounded her admirers as well as her detractors with their seemingly simple speaking voices infiltrated by the orientations of competing, incongruent discourses that interfere with her often quite traditional poetic forms. She ‘writes so differently from everyone else’, as Muriel Spark once put it, that influential contemporaries like Philip Larkin pronounced her ‘almost unclassifiable’, agreeing with others, like Seamus Heaney, that she finally must be called ‘eccentric’.1 ‘“Eccentric” and “quirky”’, as Jeni Couzyn has noted, are the words ‘most frequently applied to her poems by baffled reviewers’, both male and female (37). Such labels have worked to isolate her, as well as inspire primarily biographical studies in search of the ‘real’ Smith — the one behind what Heaney referred to as the ‘memorable voice’, a voice that in her highly performative work seems to be constantly reciting or set upon a ventriloquist’s knee.
KeywordsFairy Tale Reading Habit Woman Writer Linguistic Turn British Poetry
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