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Sunday, 24 June 2012

Stevie Smith: In the Night


Leslie Gilbert Illingworth: from Punch, 3 August 1955 (British Cartoon Archives, University of Kent)

I longed for companionship rather,

But my companions I always wished farther.

And now in the desolate night

I think only of the people I should like to bite.

Stevie Smith: In the Night, from Mother, What Is Man? (1942)


Jonathan Chant said...

Fabulous combination of image and words. I love those pylons and wires... the wistful lines that carry shocking energy.

Wooden Boy said...

Stevie knew how to bite. I don't recall ever reading a toothless line by her.

I love her polite disregard for the official metrics. She works it the way that she wants to, and the words crawl deeper under the skin and itch for longer because of this.

TC said...

The curiously and ominously prescient Illingworth cartoon was not drawn till a dozen years after Stevie had writ this, but it seems to convey something of the spirit of the poem. (Can Stevie Smith poems ever be said to have a precise historical moment?) The pylons and wires may be imagined as the power grid that carries the shock of the bite. That crackling static electricity... which does indeed get under the skin, ever so politely creating the itch that can't be scratched.

It's hard ever to get enough of it.

Stevie Smith: Dirge

Stevie Smith: Drugs Made Pauline Vague

Stevie Smith: Lady 'Rogue' Singleton

Stevie Smith: Mother, What Is Man? asked Little Bog-Face

Stevie Smith: My Heart Goes Out

Stevie Smith: Pad, Pad

Stevie Smith: Scorpion

Stevie Smith: Tenuous and Precarious

Stevie Smith: Thoughts about the Person from Porlock

Stevie Smith: To Carry the Child

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Ah, my kind of sentiment in a poem (at last)--

The older one gets and the more enfeebled in limb, the greater the need to flash those incisors. The skilful can do it

ACravan said...

This is a really excellent pairing, perfect for a Sunday morning somehow. Curtis

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Umpqua Raspberries, Red & Black Currants
Quick communication, biting. The most? Condensed down to a bite--vampire, but not. Biting, teeth touching each other--a decision. A fast sign. There is affection here, too (slight or great). Animal.

TC said...

It's interesting the way the emotive words seem to fatten us up for the bite and make it that much sharper and more lethal when it comes.

The longing, the wishing, the missed companionship and in particular the desolation.

When the night is desolate a special pall of silence falls over the town and none seem kind, perhaps due to some mystery we have not yet been made aware of.

And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

TC said...

Susan, the raspberries had so intoxicated me I hadn't noticed them.

A Stevie bite (imaginal) and a fox bite might be much alike: quick, decisive, pointed, purposive, and only when necessary.

As well as in the night whether or not necessary.

Biting as communication, yes one remembers that.

However having literally as well as figuratively lost one's bite, those pleasures now dwindle to no more than a phantasm.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Ferociously understated, electrifyingly bright.

puntos suspensivos said...

those sudden discoveries...!!

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aditya said...

Its always so great to see things from where you are. Meanwhile in my defense of a certain psychic bond, on my television Chinese folks are eating snake-penises to increase their sexual potency.

Nin Andrews said...

This is so great. Reminds me of Michaux's Man Launcher.

TC said...

Don't know about any of that snake penis & c. More interested in the subject at hand.

Nin, the Michaux is an interesting comparison.

In Michaux however the presence of the annoying people seems to be a given, as is their even more annoying habit of, after leaving, coming right back.

The Michaux narrator seems without defense against all this.

One expects the companions Stevie has wished away would be disinclined to come right back. After all when someone wishes only to bite you, it would be hard to make your self at home.

Anonymous said...

Stage Right pursued by a bear

TC said...

What I take this poem to be is a light/serious meditation on the middle-of-the-night reality of human loneliness as experienced, of course, by one somewhat apart and isolated. That's a fairly common even perhaps universal subject. More people may experience such feelings than might wish to let on. Few would dare to address or more importantly be capable of addressing such feelings in a compact, poised form such as this. It is a "throwaway" poem in that it makes no claims to be kept. Indeed it is perhaps that last quality of not appearing to demand to be kept that has long moved me to wish to keep it. In mind, that is.

As to the things I said I didn't know anything about, do forgive my brain damage, I just didn't. More important, the things didn't appear to relate to the Stevie Smith poem. Nor did the further things in the same vein, later on in the lonesome night, which I elected not to post.

As to the curious custom of saying things, saying them again, and then un-saying them while saying two more things that don't relate to what's posted... well, this is just not meant to be that sort of loonybin talent show, thanks very much.

In case anyone were interested in knowing what Nin was talking about (I was -- must be the brain damage), here is a short animated video. Nin had the modesty not to mention that the drawing and animation are the work of her talented son Jimmy.

Henri Michaux: Man Launcher

larry white said...

Tom, you are the Harry Smith of illustrations for poems (surpassing, say, the Smithsonian) and this is further proof. I first read Stevie's name in Robert Duncan's bio in The New American Poetry (or Duncan's book of that time, The Opening of the Field), and wondered for several years, Who's that? New Directions supplied the poet-illustrated answer soon enough, but I have never read such perfect appreciations of her as yours. For instance:
"Her jaunty, pseudo-slapdash approach (within which high artistry lurks so cleverly hid) is the perfect cover for these quiet assassinations of smugness and complacency in all their religious, social and intellectual forms."

TC said...

Thanks very much, Larry. Of course I love the drawings Stevie Smith did to illustrate her own poems. I've taken those as a sort of challenge to do something a bit different, putting the poems in conversation with other sorts of images. They have proven remarkably adaptable.

larry white said...

As in his own way Kenneth Patchen did when he shifted from drawings to jazz -- without abandoning the drawings.