Wednesday, May 5

Stevie Smith’s Poems Adapt to a Pandemic, Even If As Calming as Sandpaper | Poetry

TToday is the 50th anniversary of Stevie Smith’s death. He was 68 years old and suffered from a brain tumor. In the end, with her head wrapped in a striking pink turban, she was reported to have wowed visitors by performing her latest poem. Come death from his hospital bed.

I have been interested in Smith since I was a teenager, a passion that was at one time so fierce that I was inexplicably moved to give an article about her at an academic conference. (While other people’s side hustles are meant to make extra money, apparently mine must involve unpaid work of the most useless kind.)

I love its pointy. Sitting at an angle to everyone else, he can’t easily appropriate her; his verse will never appear in one of those hideous anthologies that promise to comfort us, whether we are in love or deeply grieving. She is as relaxing as sandpaper, and so much the better for it.

But seeing Juliet Stevenson play her at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for Dead Poets Live – a celebration that will air free until April 5 – I began to hesitate. The pandemic suits Stevie even better than a Peter Pan necklace. (She was a very prim dresser). Covid has brought the suburbs into her own once again, and she was nothing more than the queen of Palmers Green – a person for whom bus rides and bandstands bordered on the sacred.

He needed life to be small, a constriction that his poetry captures in a way that now seems resonant. Above all, there is his concern for loneliness. The first poem Stevenson reads is Take out Muriel from 1950, in which all of a woman’s friends have disappeared, taken (no spoilers here) by who knows what or why.

Fable of a Korean Girl

I smiled when I read that a North Korean defector had spent six hours walking along the border with South Korea, the guards apparently oblivious to his presence. Made me think of Forced landing on youIn which a South Korean heiress, who has strayed off course while paragliding, runs down the wrong side of the border unimpeded, the North Korean guards are either too drunk or too busy sobbing over a romantic TV show to notice.

If you have run out of television to watch, this series is my address, although it is difficult to describe. Imagine a soap opera that has collided with a Korean comic strip and you’re halfway there. It comes with a love storyline – how cute it turns out to be one of the North Korean soldiers! – but it’s satirical and quite funny too. It also has an almost Dickensian morality. It is a fable of personal improvement. Abandoned, minus all her usual luxuries, in the north (an alien kingdom meticulously recreated on screen), our spoiled hero, Yoon Se-ri, will become a kinder and less materialistic person. Also, a less fussy eater.

Longing Literature

A tinnitus masker is a device that combats noise with noise (to simplify: the brain is distracted and one sound overrides the other). According to this principle, I treat my ongoing loneliness by reading nothing but the literature of yearning. Last week, I devoured, not one, but two, Fitzcarraldo’s new English edition of Simple passion, in which the great Annie Ernaux describes the suspended animation of a love story with a man who is not free. Each paragraph, each word, brought me closer to a state of purer longing, and thus my restless anxiety and general stupefaction were magically relieved, if only temporarily.

Rachel Cooke is a columnist for Observer

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