These schools sent six of their best students – Anna, Anice, Alice, Sarah, Jade and Hannah – to participate in the conference. This was the first conference which the pupils had attended, and they all rose to the occasion with extraordinary maturity and enthusiasm.
One pupil, Anice Aidi from Denbigh, kindly wrote up an account of how she had experienced the event.
Attending the Stevie Smith conference at Jesus College, Oxford, was not only such a thought-provoking day, but sparked many interesting thoughts about the work of Stevie Smith and how her life had such an impact on the novels and poetry she wrote. Throughout the introduction lecture, listening to Hermione Lee and Frances Spalding really provided me with such an informative background of Smith’s life, which gave me the opportunity to draw connections with her poetry and notice how her life had such a significant effect on this.
My first lecture was: ‘I just sit and draw sometimes’, where three speakers addressed the matter of Stevie Smith’s illustrations- the concept I found most interesting which I had not taken into account previously was the idea that Stevie Smith named some of her drawings ‘doodles’, and some ‘illustrations’. This separation really brought to my attention the significance of each of Smith’s drawings and how they contrast with her poetry. One specific example referred to in the lecture was the illustration of ‘Not Waving but Drowning’- this idea of the illustration completely contrasting with the main message of the poem allowed me to question Smith’s purpose behind doing this and the impact it had on her readers.
The second lecture I attended was ‘Dear Female Heart’, which focused on Stevie Smith and spinsterhood, as well as one of her more unknown poems, ‘The Ballet of the Twelve Dancing Princesses’. Analyzing this poem gave me the opportunity to draw connections with her turn on the classic Grimm brother’s tale, and identify in which ways she had changed it into her own. The speakers were so informative and as well as providing me with such a prodigious amount of background on Stevie Smith, the essay structure was also such a helpful tool as being a year 12 student, essay structure is a key factor. Being able to listen to the way the speakers structured their essays was so useful and provided me with necessary tips for my essays within school.
Overall, being invited to such a prestigious event and given the opportunity to listen to these fantastic lectures was such an amazing experience and provided me with such a stable and in-depth understanding of the work of Stevie Smith- there were avenues the speakers went down which had never crossed my mind and will be a fantastic aid for when I begin studying poetry in school. I am truly thankful for being allowed to attend and will definitely pursue my understanding into Stevie Smith as a novelist and poet.