Persons from Porlock: Smith, MacNeice, Thomas

It was not right of Coleridge in fact it was wrong
(But often we all do wrong)
As the truth is I think he was already stuck
With Kubla Khan.

He was weeping and wailing: I am finished, finished,
I shall never write another word of it,
When along comes the Person from Porlock
And takes the blame for it.

Illustration to Stevie Smith's 'Thoughts About the Person from Porlock'
Illustration of Stevie Smith’s ‘Thoughts About the Person from Porlock’ (1962)

Coleridge’s Person from Porlock had a good few outings in the mid-twentieth-century.

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Lear, Smith and Feet-off-the-ground

But first, Reader, I will give you a word of warning.  This is a foot-off-the-ground novel that came by the left hand…. And if you are a foot-on-the-ground person, this book will be for you a desert of weariness and exasperation.  So put it down.  Leave it alone.  It was a mistake that you made to get this book.  You could not know. (Stevie Smith, Novel on Yellow Paper)

Today I’ve been thinking about feet in Edward Lear‘s illustrations.

Lear, Old Man of Whitehaven
Edward Lear, ‘There was an old man of Whitehaven/Who danced a quadrille with a raven…’

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The Stevie Smith Archive: Five Treasures

I’ve been back from Tulsa, where I was working in the Stevie Smith archive, for about three weeks now.  It was a very rich trip, and I will take some time to process all the treasures I found there.

Today, though: some of the quirkier finds in the archive.

  1. A lock of Stevie Smith’s hair
A lock of Stevie Smith's hair.
A lock of Stevie Smith’s hair. Stevie Smith papers, 1924-1970. Coll. No. 1976.012. McFarlin Library. Department of Special Collections and University Archives. The University of Tulsa.

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‘What would you do about that?’: Stevie Smith and James Thurber

In a review for the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post in 1958, John Betjeman wrote, ‘Stevie Smith is a delightful poet and writer; her sketchbook “Some Are More Human Than Others” (Gaberbocchus, 18s) owes much to Thurber.’

Betjeman wasn’t alone in comparing Smith’s doodle-art to James Thurber (1894-1961), who contributed stories and drawings to the New Yorker from 1930 to 1950. Like Smith, Thurber drew mobile, dynamic figures in pen and ink. His people are sketchy, distorted, holding themselves at insistent but unsettling angles.

Thurber drawing - 'Two best falls out of three - Okay, Mr Montague?'
Note: tilted backs and arms; unevenly thick legs; one sketchy, flopping lock of hair…

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