Closed

What will we do after all the shops close and we’ve already ordered all the stuff we need or want from Amazon? And suppose, while we’re waiting for the packages to arrive, the Amazon warehouses go on strike?

We might find some ideas by looking back at what folks did before all the shops and shopping and online browsing and waiting impatiently for packages to arrive to satisfy our needs for instant gratification – what folks back then did.

We’ve already seen how the Sears Catalog was a precursor to today’s online shopping guides. But what of before the Catalog?

We get a glimpse of development and changing attitudes, from rural all the way through gentrification, in just a few pages in Frances Spalding’s “Stevie Smith: A Biography,” and we see that many of the attitudes are not much different from those since:

“Even the advent of the railway had brought little change, for the area was protected by owners of large estates who refused to carve up their land and therefore kept the speculative builder at bay….Then in 1902 Captain J. V. Taylor of Grovelands sold large tracts of his land for development. After this more and more land came on to the market and suburbia spread.”

Once the urban growth boundary falls, shops grow:

“Already by 1906, when Stevie and her relations arrived, Green Lanes was entirely lined with shops and houses. The surrounding fields, country lanes and toll gate that gave the area its charm were steadily diminishing with the spread of bricks and mortar, pavements and private hedges.”

Long time residents expressed concerns that with “all this building a poorer class of resident would be attracted to the area. Shopkeepers in Alderman’s Hill complained about the muddy state of the road and the need for more pavements.”

Feelings of entitlement boiled over. Citizens brought vegetables to town meetings and apparently showed little restraint in tossing them at speakers whose opinions differed from their own:

“Very quickly Palmers Green developed a reputation for being one of the most snobbish of London’s outer suburbs….The political flavour of this up-and-coming residential area was already noticeably right wing….The tone of the area is reflected in the correspondence columns of the local press, where a persistent demand for better services from Southgate Urban District Council is coupled with a violent antipathy to paying for these services in increased rates.”

Yet “the building of churches helped establish the community life of the area….and played an important social role…for its church hall hosted society meetings and, during the First World War, a great many concerts, plays and bazaars in aid of charity.”

Following the establishment of churches which fulfilled certain community gathering needs, came a “first cinema.” Still, “much entertainment was home-grown; societies and clubs flourished. The area had its own branch of the Fabian Society….The issue of women’s suffrage could not be ignored.” And a “Literary Society met once a month, on the Monday nearest to the full moon.”

Where should we live and what should we live for?

“Stevie never tired of extolling the virtues of Palmers Green, a true suburb, according to her, because it is an outer suburb and not one of the inner ones which have been captured by London. In her own lifetime it grew shabby and down-at-heel and has since her death deteriorated still further. But even before its decline few could share her view: Grovelands which for Stevie was ‘a happy place even when it is raining’ is a very average park, dull and dreary in bad weather; nor did the colours of Palmers Green, with its windy shopping corners and people attached to dogs or prams, seem to her friends quiet so fresh and exquisite.”

Spalding’s book on Stevie came out in 1988. Palmers Green is still a place, more urban than in Stevie’s time or even Spalding’s of the 80s. And there is today an Amazon locker located in the area.

A certain shabbiness and “down-at-heel” sentiment might be necessary for the proper inculcation of poetic or literary values. One wants to avoid being a snob, even while snobbishness remains one of the fuels that light up literature, and even literary critics might want to avoid being snobs of any sort.

Poem for Stevie Smith in a Manner of Stevie Smith

Stevie Smith is stalwart Poe with a sense of humor.
She bakes you a cake and in it you find a tumor.
She proves the recalcitrant reader’s reasoned rumor:
Literature lulls lap then snap you awake in a trap.

Her darling pencil drawings suggest an eye for style.
She invites dog-eared Ogden Nash for toast and tea
Laced with poem poison and sarcastic want to be.
But it’s the simple truth boldly baldly beingly told:

Life’s humongous pimple the poet is unable
To rouge under, and you don’t require Plato to know
The news that tomorrow your plebian tale may go
Away, vanished as miraculously as it came.

Best Poems Stevie Smith“Poem for Stevie Smith in a Manner of Stevie Smith” is not purely in the manner of Stevie Smith. She uses periods, but not necessarily at the end of every sentence, so sparingly, as if a period was a pound and not a penny. And she doesn’t fancy poetic trickery like alliteration. The poems are not bawdy, nor are her poems explicitly about the body. A typical Stevie Smith poem turns on the irony of ordinary thoughts and word play and the insistence that these are what we might be thinking about. The little poem lifts the wafer upward then drops it into the kitchen sink. Stevie was born in 1902 and died in 1971, so the present tense here is as fanciful as the alliteration – though for Poe, alliteration was more than a fancy; it was a terrible tortuous tinnitus bellowing.

“Best Poems,” by Stevie Smith, (reissued as New Directions Paperback number 1271 in 2014), spreads 165 poems and 108 drawings over 151 pages, including a five-page index of titles and first lines.  There are many Stevie Smith lines that might cause a reader to look skyward and reflect. One memorable such line is this one, from “Souvenir de Monsieur Poop” (23):

“I always write more in sorrow than in anger.”

But who is Mr. Poop? Each Stevie Smith poem is a perfect trap, but we pass through the trap and are undeceived, as postmodern as a bath mat.

Stevie Smith Best Poems