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Not Waving, But Drowning [VINYL]

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It goes without saying that Loyle’s music is hard to categorise, but what is even more impressive is that for someone who grew up listening to Mos Def, Biggie Smalls, Roots Manuva, and Wu Tang Clan, he doesn’t sound like any of them. Although he might from time to time give lyrical nods to them, he’s no imitator. I’m not that interested in the lives of poets. Lord Byron may have been “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” but as any product of an MFA program can tell you, a poet’s life is typically short on titillating details. Italian loafers. Yoga classes. Book signings. Yawn. Novel on Yellow Paper; or, Work It out for Yourself, J. Cape, 1936, Morrow, 1937, New Directions (New York, NY), 1994.

Raised in the Anglican Church, Smith borrowed the meter of its hymns, but the beat often fell away to accommodate the prissy registers of middle-class speech, as in “This Is Disgraceful and Abominable”: Of all the disgraceful and abominable things An album like this is hard to find. It is for those who like their Hip Hop to have soul, and their soul to have spirit. This is because it works on so many levels, but it is reflecting the personality of its creator. There are a host of collaborators here, Jorja Smith, Rebel Kleff, Kiko Bun, Kwes, Jordan Rakei, Sampha, Tom Misch and more, but none are overpowering. They blend righteously into place. Suspended midtrot below these lines is a crudely drawn dog. Is she putting us on? As coy and self-undermining as Smith’s poetry can be, I don’t like to call it naive. In it, you sense the subversive spirit of a woman twitching under the weight of her social station. Loyle Carner will release his highly anticipated sophomore record, ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’ on 19 April via AMF Records. Not Waving, But Drowning’, Loyle’s new album, gives yet more evidence – as if it were needed – of his razor-sharp flow and his unique storytelling ability. Yes, he can rap, but he allies that with the sensitivity of a poet, the observational skills of a novelist, and warmth of your best friend. The album opens with ‘Dear Jean’, a letter to his mother in which he’s telling her that he has found the love of his life, “a woman from the skies”, and he’s moving out.

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Contributing to the deceptive quality of the poet’s work was her language, which a Times Literary Supplement reviewer described as “Smith’s most distinctive achievement.” The critic elaborated: “The cliches, the excesses, the crabbed formalities of this speech are given weight by the chillingly amusing or disquieting elements; by the sense of a refined, ironic unhappiness underlying the poems; and by the variety of topics embraced by the poet’s three or four basic and serious themes.” Although the writer found some of Smith’s work “indulgent, even trivial … it ought at last to be recognized that Miss Smith’s is a purposeful and substantial talent. From below the surface oddness, her personal voice comes out to us as something questing, discomfiting, compassionate.” Smith’s “highly individualistic poetic style [was] vulnerable to shifts in critical taste and to the charges of eccentricity, a charge which Smith risked, and in a sense even flirted with, throughout her career,” Hallett concluded. “However, the integrity with which she adhered to her own style earned Stevie Smith a considerable amount of respect, and, more than ten years after her death, her reputation with both readers and fellow poets is deservedly high.” Or a real hoot with a twist of pathos, as in “Tenuous and Precarious.” Here, a grown child riffs on the conventions of schoolbook Latin to sketch a portrait of her family. As in many of her poems, Smith lampoons adult figures who nevertheless cast a dark shadow: Tenuous and Precarious

After students have had a chance to read “Not Waving but Drowning” for themselves, ask them to read Caitlin Kimball’s poem guide, engaging with the author’s interpretation critically. Askthem to mark striking passages, especially those with which they agree or disagree. Have students discuss their findings and askwhat aspect of the human experience does this poet challenge us to examine? Students may share personal observations of the ways in which people are misinterpreted or how signs of struggle are often misread. Editor) The Poet's Garden, Viking, 1970 (published in England as The Batsford Book of Children's Verse, Batsford, 1970).Have students read the poem several times. Then have them rewrite the lines of the poem as a script, indicating the speaker of each of the lines. In their character descriptions, they should indicate the relationship to the victim that each speaker might have. For example, “stranger in the crowd,” acquaintance,” etc. Askwho says the lines, “I was much too far out all my life/And not waving but drowning.” Have students share their findings and discuss various readings of the poem. Askwhat does this startling image and the observers’ reactions challenge us to think about?

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 3, 1975, Volume 8, 1980, Volume 25, 1983, Volume 44, 1987. Loyle is not bitter with people who have let him down, or a society that lets so many down, but the combination of anger and love he has gives his voice the perfect blend of strength and vulnerability. This might be a coming of age album, but it’s also a coming of ageless album. Loyle’s 2019 Spring tour – which includes London’s Roundhouse – sold out within 20 minutes of being on sale. Loyle has also just been announced for this year’s Glastonbury Festival, where he’ll be performing on The Other stage.

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Speaking of “serious,” “Not Waving but Drowning” is Smith’s most famous poem. This twelve-line punch to the gut is one of her most sober and plainly nihilistic pieces. He’s dead from the very beginning, but he continues to moan. His witnesses have failed him, so now we will take their place. The man’s words aren’t set off with italics or quotation marks, which subtly reinforces his place as the primary consciousness of the poem. A pass at rhythm, an off-rhyme (moaning/drowning), lends an air of jollity to the harrowing setup—it’s a hallmark of the macabre. But in the next stanza, the perspective shifts outward again and the chill really sets in: Poor chap, he always loved larking As is often the case with “minor” poets, Smith’s biography tends to serve as shorthand for her work, which included hundreds of sly, playful short verses. Some highlights: Born during the reign of King Edward, died during the sexual revolution. Served as the personal secretary to a publishing company executive for 30 years. Never married. Lived in the same house in suburban London for virtually her entire life. Notable for her half-sung, off-key recitations and girlish marginal doodles.

A Very Pleasant Evening with Stevie Smith: Selected Short Prose, New Directions (New York, NY), 1995. Civello, Catherine A., Patterns of Ambivalence: The Fiction and Poetry of Stevie Smith, Camden House, 1997. Calling Smith’s Not Waving but Drowning“the best collection of new poems to appear in 1957,” Poetry contributor David Wright observed that “as one of the most original women poets now writing. [Stevie Smith] seems to have missed most of the public accolades bestowed by critics and anthologists. One reason may be that not only does she belong to no ‘school’—whether real or invented as they usually are—but her work is so completely different from anyone else’s that it is all but impossible to discuss her poems in relation to those of her contemporaries.” Smith’s “seemingly light verse,” wrote Linda Rahm Hallett in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, contains a “sometimes disconcerting mixture of wit and seriousness …, making her at once one of the most consistent and most elusive of poets.” Smith’s writings frequently demonstrated a fascination with death and also explored “the mysterious, rather sinister reality which lurks behind appealing or innocent appearances,” wrote Hallett. As a result, Wright said, “the apparent geniality of many of her poems is in fact more frightening than the solemn keening and sentimental despair of other poets, for it is based on a clear-sighted acceptance, by a mind neither obtuse nor unimaginative, but sharp and serious, innocent but far from naive.”“Without identifying itself with any particular school of modern poetics,” Hallett wrote, “[Smith’s] voice is nevertheless very much that of what she once called the ‘age of unrest’ through which she lived.” Her first book, Novel on Yellow Paper (1936) examines religion and politics in the lead-up to the Second World War.

Notes

Contributor of poetry to numerous anthologies, including Faber Book of Twentieth-Century Verse, 2nd edition, 1965, and Poetry 1900 to 1965, 1967. Before teaching, read the poem guide to “Not Waving but Drowning.” Have students think-pair-share a time when things went wrong because their words or gestures were misunderstood by others.

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