Stevie Smith (1902-1971) was born in Hull, England, but when she was three she moved with her parents and sister to Avondale Road in Palmers Green—an address now immortalized in her own writings, the Hugh Whitmore stage play, Stevie, and its highly acclaimed film version, starring Glenda Jackson. Here she stayed for over sixty years, after her parents’ death living with and devoted to her beloved "Lion Aunt." Born Florence Margaret, nicknamed Stevie after Steve Donghue the jockey, she first attempted to publish her poems in 1935 but was told to "go away and write a novel." Novel on Yellow Paper was the result. This and her first volume of poems (often illustrated) established her reputation as a unique poetic talent. New Directions also publishes her Collected Poems, New Selected Poems, and Some are More Human Than Others.
Extraordinarily funny, with the fresh eye of a visitor from another world, Stevie Smith is a poet to savor. Wielding a throwaway wit and the strangest irony, Stevie Smith was deeply read in the classics and yet sprinkled her poetry with delightful doodles. Her poems are often very dark; her characters are perpetually saying “goodbye” to their friends or welcoming death. At the same time her work has an eerie levity. Countless are her witty ways. The title of her first collection says it perfectly: "A Good Time Was Had by All."
I longed for companionship rather,
But my companions I always wished farther.
And now in the desolate night
I think only of people I should like to bite.
Stevie Smith is a magnificent wild card in the deck of this century’s great writers––beyond category and past calculation. As Annie Dillard has said, "She is a wonder." A great poet and novelist (Novel on Yellow Paper), Stevie Smith also wrote delightful short prose. And here, in A Very Pleasant Evening with Stevie Smith, is the very best of it: eight stories and four essays mixing throw-away charm and deadly sophistication. Her stories delight and surprise: her essays defend favorite subjects, such as cats and the suburbs. "Life in the suburbs is richer at the lower levels. At these levels people are not self-conscious at all, they are at liberty to be as eccentric as they please, they do not know they are eccentric." And Stevie herself, at liberty to be as eccentric as she pleased, is the antidote to every form of literary dullness.
Available: June 01 1995
Pompey Casmilus, Stevie Smith’s loquacious alter ego and heroine, works as a secretary and writes down on yellow office paper this wickedly amusing and brainy novel. “Dear Reader,” she addresses us politely, ironically, in the whirlwind of her opinions on death, sex, art. Greek tragedy, friendship, her Aunt, the magnificent "Lion of Hull," marriage, Nazism, gossip, and the suburbs. But most of all Pompey talks about love: love for friends, love for Freddy––for Pompey is young and in love, but must she marry? Stevie Smith first tried to get her poems published in 1935, but she was told by a publisher to "go away and write a novel." Novel on Yellow Paper, the happy result of this advice, made its author an instant celebrity and was acclaimed at the time as "a curious, amusing, provocative and very serious piece of work." (The London Times Literary Supplement, 1936)
Available: June 01 1994
The British poet Stevie Smith, as her many readers well know, sprinkled her drawings throughout her poetry collections. In this sketchbook, Some Are More Human Than Others, she did the opposite––she spiced her drawings with words. Together they resound with what Robert Lowell described as Smith’s "unique and cheerfully gruesome voice" and open up a little world of peculiar experience: something somber and something gay, innocent and cruel––truths of our world trapped off guard.
Available: September 01 1989
The New Selected Poems replaces the slim volume with which New Directions first introduced Stevie Smith (1902-1971) to American readers. Chronologically arranged, the book contains 165 poems along with many of her humorous drawings. Stevie Smith wrote poems about everything––hats, children, death, theology, marriage, political and social issues, suicide, nature, history, her own autobiography, friends, foes, and animals (especially cats)––and she wrote them in an inimitable way. She is delightfully deceitful: echoes from a wide range of poetic literature shimmer elusively; themes that at first seem simple, almost childlike, cut knife-edge deep to serious concerns; her metrics, her inner rhymes and assonances, her mischievous throw-away lines are sly in their subtle control; her humor––and certainly she is funny––is a coin with a dark side. “A more individual talent than Stevie Smith’s you don’t get," Clive James remarked recently in The New Yorker. "Stevie Smith was an artist of the utmost sophistication… She strove industriously to make it look as if she didn’t know what she was doing. She knew exactly… When she is in form she can deconstruct literature in the only way that counts––by constructing something that feels as if it has just flown together, except that you can’t take it apart."
Available: September 01 1984
This New Directions Paperbook brings back into print the 1975 Oxford University Press edition of Stevie Smith’s Collected Poems, her complete poetic works edited by her long-time friend James MacGibbon. "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. She is a charming and original poet," commented Robert Lowell about the book that introduced Stevie to American readers, her Selected Poems (New Directions, 1964). The Selected won her many enthusiasts, but it was not until the release of Hugh Whitemore’s film Stevie in 1981 that her poetry found a wider audience and sent that little book repeatedly back to press. The title of Miss Smith’s first published collection (London, 1937) was A Good Time Was Had By All, and indeed that is what her poetry, embroidered by her delightful, apposite doodles, provides. It brings us too into the company of wit, irony, and, as Brendan Gill remarked, "images of joy and terror." A Newsweek reviewer wrote, "Even in the lightest of her verse, the briefest epigram, there is a resonance, the reverberation of a triangle, if not a gong."