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Sunday, 28 February 2010

Stevie Smith: Tenuous and Precarious


On The Pier by raworth.

Tenuous and Precarious
Were my guardians,
Precarious and Tenuous,
Two Romans.

My father was Hazardous,
Dear old man,
Three Romans.

There was my brother Spurious,
Spurious Posthumous,
Spurious was Spurious,
Was four Romans.

My husband was Perfidious,
He was Perfidious,
Five Romans.

Surreptitious, our son,
Was Surreptitious,
Six Romans.

Our cat Tedious
Still lives,
Count not Tedious

My name is Finis,
Finis, Finis,
I am Finis,
Six, five, four, three, two,
One Roman,

On The Pier by raworth.

Tenuous and Precarious: Stevie Smith, from Poems (1971)

On the Pier (31.10.09): photos by Tom Raworth, 2009


Elmo St. Rose said...

Handsome is as Handsome does
Stupid is as Stupid does
Billy Bud and Forrest Gump
extending the nuclear family
aMerican Romans for a better

TC said...

Indeed I know of no other poet who can compare with Stevie Smith when it comes to defining family values.

Melissa said...

I love her!

TC said...

Likewise. Speechless adoration.

bill sherman said...

The Other London

b&w cat on roof tops
Avondale Road
Quiet street
cherry tree

TC said...


Brilliant little poem capturing the quiet containment of a brilliant poet.

A while back there was an only slightly ostentatious (of course any ostentation at all would be more than Stevie would have wished) ceremony in which an official National Heritage designation was conferred upon the house on Avondale Road, and a blue plaque attached thereto. After a prelude of wine and crisps at a bookshop, the train of guests repaired to Avondale Road for the unveiling, with the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, presiding. But let me not stand in the way of the account on Stevie's website.

"...Andrew Motion added that her work also had the authority of high spirits.

"He then read two of her poems: 'Tenuous and Precarious' which he said he first read as a teenager and found very funny, although the serious creeps in, and 'The Galloping Cat'. He then retreated behind the hedge to pull the string and release the cloth that covered the blue plaque.

"After this a man climbed a ladder to remove the wood which had held the cloth, and Andrew Motion went into the house and eventually appeared at the upstairs window next to the plaque. Various people had failed to open the window fully before the Poet Laureate arrived to struggle vigorously with the recalcitrant sash in his efforts to appear next to Stevie's plaque for the benefit of the press photographers standing in the road. 'A Stevie moment' I heard someone say as the rain began to fall."

The bit about the "high spirits" (following the earlier bit about the wine and crisps) I thought unintentionally fine, and the bit about the "serious creeps" and the hedge-retreat even better, though neither of these could quite match the struggle with the recalcitrant sash for pure Stevie-esque hilarity.

Those interested in the unremarkable suburban venue from which all those remarkable poems emanated might wish to share a Stevie moment.

Rachel Loden said...

Shriek! What a wonderful respite from my current pleasures. Calls up Monty Python and the joys of (Stephen) Fry and (Hugh) Laurie, back when they were an incorrigible team.

TC said...


Yes what wonderful fun with the virtual wine and crisps.

"Damn that bloody sash!"

-- Andrew "Slow" Motion, the Basil Fawlty of Poet Laureates.

Sarah Sarai said...

She is a longtime favorite of mine. Using humble gifts I wrote this poem "after Stevie Smith" (which maybe sounds pompous though I like the pom in pompous).
"I was much too far out all my life" in The Collagist.

Trust Tom Clark to post Stevie Smith with perfect and beautiful photographs. She moves beyond the silliness (beloved silliness, oh yes!) of Monty Python.