Not Waving but Drowning
by Stevie Smith
Not Waving but Drowning Resources
Poetry Foundation hooks you up with the facts on Smith's work and her reputation as a strange poet and person. Make sure to look at the "Poems, Articles, & More" tab, too, where you'll find a bunch more to explore. We promise: "Thoughts About the Person from Porlock" will knock your socks off, or at least interrupt you while you're putting them on.
Want a little more info about her life? Check this site out, and you're welcome.
Trevor Howard, billed as "The Man," creepily performs "Not Waving but Drowning" in the 1978 movie Stevie. He looks awfully dry to us.
A wonderful introduction to and reading of the poem by the poet herself, courtesy of Poetry Archive. Nobody does deadpan humor like she does. And nobody has such an awesome accent.
Singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt and friends play "Stevie Smith," a low-fi musical interpretation of "Not Waving but Drowning." Notice how they change singers for the dead man's part. Do you feel like crying yet? (Maybe not crying, but laughing?)
Here's another interpretation of the poem as song, this time with the sultry voice of British singer Tanita Tikaram.
It's hard not to hear this grim little number as a Stevie Smith tribute. It's even more ironic, melodramatic, and bitter, though, because that's what Morrissey does best. Hey, also his first name is Steven and his band was called the Smiths. Coincidence?
Yes, yes it could. On their 1979 debut album, experimental post-punk band This Heat included the song "Not Waving," an adaptation that follows the dead man's thoughts at the moment of his death. It's pretty avant-garde. Or just plain weird.
If you can't get enough grim whimsy and British accents, you might want this recording of Smith reading over 50 of her poems.
Here's the author reading a short story. Yep, she wrote those, too.
In addition to being a poet, short story writer, novelist, and reviewer, Smith illustrated many of her works. She often had to fight publishers who thought her drawings didn't fit the poems. Notice how this one seems like a deliberate contrast with the poem.
Articles and Interviews
Caitlin Kimball gives a funny account of her early love of Stevie Smith, a brief profile of the poet, and a smart reading of "Not Waving but Drowning." Inspiration for all you budding literary critics out there.
Throughout her career and after her death, Smith was often considered too silly or slight to be paid much attention. This article from The Believer responds to those charges and shows why the poet should be better appreciated today, just not as deadly seriously as most poets. We're looking at you, T.S. Eliot.
Admit it, now you're a Stevie Smith fan. So of course you'll want all the poems, plus the doodles that go with them.
Okay, maybe you don't want to dive into the deep end right away. That's fine. There's always this distillation of the Stevie Smith Experience to help you get a toe in the water.
Her first novel, that is, the aptly titled Novel on Yellow Paper. (She wrote it at the office in a matter of weeks on yellow carbon paper. That's what people did at work before Facebook.)
Movies & TV
Glenda Jackson takes on the role of Smith in this movie adaptation of a popular play. The monologues come right out of Smith's letters and interviews, and Jackson (and others) give dramatic performances of the poems. It's like a night at the theater, but with more tea and sherry.