Desiring to bear the word : the poetry of Stevie Smith
This thesis argues that Stevie Smith's poetic style can be attributed to her gender. It shows that the dominant status of masculine poetry and poetics, and the prejudice against women poets, affected Smith's poetic style and led to her search for the source ofa feminine poetic voice. The prevailing circumstances when Smith began to publish poetry are examined in order to establish Smith's socially appropriate poetics. The thesis offers detailed textual analyses, informed by feminist theories. Chapters one and two take a socio-historic materialist approach to examine the problems confronting Smith as a woman poet. This includes considering Smith's categorisation as a poet of the suburbs, and the dominance of the Auden group. Chapters three to five look at Smith's use of children's literature and the influence of Blake and Wordsworth. Judith Butler's ideas ofperformativity, and Carolyn Steedman's of interiority, are used to propose that both are relevant to Smith's preoccupation with childhood. Smith's engagement with, and subversion of, the male poetic tradition and the idea of the muse are also considered. The last two chapters on the themes of birth and death draw on the ideas of Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva in order to argue that Smith's longing for death is a wish for rebirth, therefore a return to the maternal semiotic source which facilitates poetry. In this way death does not withhold language, but enables linguistic acquisition. This thesis adds to existing knowledge about Smith, and extends debates surrounding women and poetry. It contributes to feminist analyses of fairy tales, the poetic tradition, and the idea of the muse, and expands psycholinguistic theory to propose the relevance of death as well as infancy, and to suggest that Smith's preoccupations with the source of feminine poetry anticipates some fundamental theories of the 'French' feminists.