Even readers of Stevie Smith's poetry who appreciate its comic brilliance tend to shy away from the question of how to interpret the "eccentric" doodles that accompany her funny poems. This feminist essay uses (and interrogates) interarts theory to answer this question through analysis of Smith's texts of "violent consumption."
Worrying and writing about images in literary texts is a time-honored occupation for scholars. In 1135, complaining to Abbot William of St. Thierry about the "ridiculous monstrosities" adorning the cloister capitals around which his reading brethren paced, St. Bernard wrote: "Indeed there are so many things, and everywhere such an extraordinary variety of hybrid forms, that it is more diverting to read in the marble than in the texts before you, 'ut magis legere libeat in marmoribus quam in codicibus,' and to spend the whole day gazing at such singularities in preference to meditating on God's laws" (qtd. in Davies-Weyer 70). Citing this complaint in his study of medieval art, Michael Camille shows how even marginal images, "images on the edge," threaten to overwhelm or consume the central texts they putatively support, defying the words' claims to legitimacy, destroying their aura of sanctity, challenging nothing less than the forms of God. Though unconcerned about God, modern literary critics have perpetuated this monastic tradition of anxiety about images in their fears that such "singularities" will challenge the authority of literature itself. It is only recently, when postmodern critics redefined literature as text and proclaimed "[c]ontext is all" (Hutcheon 54), that it has become possible to regard images with equanimity, to accept Camille's insight that "as signs in the site of reading, such 'deformed forms' could 'teach' as much as any narrative or saint's life in stone" (64-65).
More than eight centuries after St. Bernard bemoaned the temptations of marble images, Stevie Smith (1902-71) occasioned similar kinds of anxieties by publishing cartoon-like drawings in each of her original volumes of poetry. Most widely recognized today as the author of the poem "Not Waving But Drowning," Smith earned public attention during her own lifetime for her "eccentric" habits of arriving at poetry readings in schoolgirl frocks, singing her poems in an off-key voice, and retreating to the unfashionable suburb of Palmers Green and the unliterary company of her aging aunt. In the 1960s, when Smith's popularity was on the rise, the ambivalence to her work of more mainstream poets can be seen in Philip Larkin's New Statesman review of her Selected Poems.
I am not aware that Stevie Smith's poems have ever received serious critical assessment, though recently I have seen signs that this may not be far off. They are certainly presented with that hallmark of frivolity, drawings, and if my friends had been asked to place Miss Smith they would no doubt have put her somewhere in the uneasy marches between humorous and children's. (75, emphasis in original)
Smith's own self-deprecating characterization of her drawings as "higher doodling, or perhaps just doodling without the higher" (qtd. in Barbera 222) does not challenge Larkin's evaluation. Nor would it have challenged that of Seamus Heaney, who concluded his 1976 review of her Collected Poems, by stating: "I suppose in the end the adjective has to be 'eccentric'" (213). In "Why Stevie Smith Matters," however, Mark Storey complains about this "eccentric" label because it assumes that "Eccentrics are not dangerous, and [that] their value fades with their passing" (176). Still, it has taken many years for this same "eccentric" label to assume a positive value and to be regarded as a sign of Smith's power to contest mainstream voices, beliefs, and institutions in highly original ways. Now there exists more than a decade's worth of poststructuralist and feminist criticism by scholars like Martin Pumphrey, Sheryl Stevenson, Romana Huk, and Laura Severin that analyzes Smith's exclusion from "serious critical assessment" and encourages a more complex understanding of her "eccentricity."
In this essay, I wish to rewrite the eccentric "end" that Heaney describes and to join more recent critics in arguing that eccentricity is dangerous, that, in Linda Hutcheon's words, "the 'ex-centric' (be it in class, race, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity) [takes] on new significance in the light of the implied recognition that our culture is not really the homogeneous monolith (that is middle-class, male, heterosexual, white, western) we might have assumed" (12). To make this argument I first use the ideas of interarts theorists to challenge the traditional notion that marginal or "eccentric" images corrupt a more central, though vulnerable, text. Second, I compare the use of violent metaphors in this interarts theory to the violent metaphors in feminist literary theory in order to expose the similar objectives, as well as ironic differences, of these theoretical attacks on more central critical traditions. Third, I use interarts and feminist theories to read Smith's poem-doodles anew, showing how Smith's marginal work not only participates in, but also challenges, the more widely accepted poetic traditions and ideological assumptions of her time. Fourth, I use these new readings of Smith's poem-doodles to make a feminist intervention in the very interarts theory that frames my analysis, exploring the implications of that theory's exclusion of women's art and artists from its central texts as it simultaneously employs strictly gendered metaphors and explanatory structures. Ultimately, the four strands of my argument will be brought together in an examination of what I call Smith's poems of "violent consumption." Seen in terms of this category, her poem-doodles not only teach us how to read the various dangers of eccentricity, but also teach us how much is still at stake for feminist or other "ex-centric" critics who are engaged in interarts debate.
To propose readings of poems that depend upon examination of doodles requires a tolerance for inverse logic, a poststructuralist leap of faith that "the edges of discourse...always return us to the rules of the centre" (Camille 126). It is to reject the common-sense belief that images have "mirroring relationships" with words and do not "alter one's reading experience" (Barbera 22223). The limitations of this common-sense approach are clearly exposed by Perry Nodelman's study of children's picture books, in which he notes that "the words of the texts so permeate our experience of the pictures that the two seem to mirror each other. But they do not in fact do so - as becomes obvious as soon as we separate them from each other" (193). Nodelman's conviction that "pictures actually change the meanings of texts in the process of supporting them" (196) is an idea whose inverse form - that texts change the meaning of pictures first reached a wide audience through John Berger's popular B.B.C. television series, Ways of Seeing. In his subsequent book on the subject, Berger argues that technologies of visual reproduction force paintings to surrender their "original independent meaning" to words and arguments (28). As a way of illustrating the idea that in reproduced texts "the meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it" (29), Berger presents two black-and-white images of Van Gogh's Wheatfield with Crows. The second reproduction is accompanied by the words,"This is the last picture that Van Gogh painted before he killed himself" (28). Berger's decision to use this example to illustrate how the authority of an image "is distributed over the whole context in which it appears" admits violence into the change of meaning that texts and images enact upon one another (29). The question that arises in turn is whether language about wordimage relationships inevitably falls into violent figures of speech.
If we were to examine W. J. T. Mitchell's influential Picture Theory, our answer probably would be "yes." Mitchell follows the trail of violent metaphors laid out by Foucault's discussion of Magritte's Les trahison des images, a painting whose famous pipe and accompanying words, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," perfectly serves Mitchell's need for a metapicture that represents "the relation between discourse and representation, a picture about the gap between words and pictures" (65). In the process of demonstrating how illustrated books, in contrast to Magritte's painting, try to achieve the ideal of "suturing...discourse and representation, the sayable and the seeable, across an unobtrusive, invisible frontier" (69-70), Mitchell accepts and extends a metaphor of hunting employed by Foucault. For Mitchell, word and image are "like two hunters" or "like the two jaws of a trap set for the real"; for Foucault, the calligram (a composite text-image) "pursu[es] its quarry by two paths....By its double function, it guarantees capture, as neither discourse alone nor a pure drawing could do" (22; qtd. in Mitchell 70).
The utopian aspect of this "guarantee" of capture, the impossible aim of illustrated texts to join word and picture across the "No Man's Land between image and text" (71), does not keep Mitchell from redoubling his efforts in his own hunt for metameaning. In the process of doing so, he also redoubles his dependence on a language of (masculine) violence. Instead of references to hunting, Mitchell now cites approvingly Foucault's military metaphors to mark out a more dangerous territory in the margins of the text - in the regions beyond word or image. Foucault describes the "few millimeters of white, the calm sand of the page" between word and image as a "frontier" (28) and claims that there exists "between the figure and the text a whole series of intersections - or rather attacks launched by one against the other, arrows shot at the enemy target, enterprises of subversion and destruction, lance blows and wounds, a battle" (26). Unlike traditional literary critics, Mitchell and Foucault do not believe that images alone threaten the coherence of words in a violent, predatory way, but rather that image and word each pose a fundamental threat to one another at the site of their meeting.
There seems to be no escaping such a threat, for once we have acknowledged what Foucault describes as the "battle" between line or print across the unclassifiable space that separates them, it is no longer possible to believe in the promise of meaning offered by "discourse alone" or "pure drawing." For every text and every image will have a border and every border will demand a "battle" between divergent forms of line or type and margin. Thus every supposedly "pure" text - every instance of "plain" reading - presents the same kind of complicated oppositions or "attacks" across borders that characterize the special practice of reading that is described by writers who theorize about relations between visual and verbal forms. This suggests that the interaction between word and picture is a figure for more general kinds of reading. The figures of speech used to represent relations between words and pictures - verbal images of "hunters," "quarry," "capture," and a "trap" - are therefore just more acute versions of a general dynamic, of the "dialectic of discourse and vision" which to Mitchell is "a fundamental figure of knowledge as such" (70). If the interaction between word and picture is such a "fundamental figure" for the broader categories of Reading or Knowledge, it is likely that those critics who choose to look more closely at illustrated "children's" or "humorous" literature will be able to contribute in potentially significant and unexpected ways to our understanding of all literature and literary reception. Even in the simplest of illustrated texts, then, there is more to see than first meets the eye.
Yet why should this "more" that images provide give rise to a language of violence? To answer this question, it is helpful to note that similar language is employed by critics discussing the relations between words and women. In commenting on British women poets and canonical English literature, for example, Alison Light notes: "It is tempting to see these writers as conducting a kind of guerrilla warfare against the Parnassian rhetoric and vatic authority of a poetry claiming the nation's cultural and moral high ground, planting their small bombs set to explode the masculine hubris of that tradition in its more bombastic forms" (250). While Light is concerned about the ways such a heroic view has the ironic effect of isolating women poets from Britain's history, the image of battle that she uses to describe the encounter between women writers and their literary tradition also has the effect of bringing the "other" sex closer to the center of debates about words and pictures. Depicting or"picturing" theory about gender through a language of violence, Light joins the likes of Camille, Nodelman, Mitchell, and Foucault in a bold confrontation of the dangers of eccentricity - dangers that are fully ideological in their implications and forms.
Smith felt strongly about the importance of publishing doodles with her poems, but her seemingly arbitrary method of bringing individual poems and doodles together reminds us not to look for any exact correlation. As Smith herself recounted in an interview with Kay Dick, "Oh, I've got a boxful of drawings....This is a playbox. I keep them here with my income tax and investments on top of the drawings....The drawings don't really have anything to do with the poems" (70). Elaborating on this situation, Smith's biographers describe her method as a matter of collecting enough poems for a book and then searching through a "playbox" of doodles to create suitable matches between words and drawings (Barbera & McBrien 194-95). My concern, however, is not to explore the history of affiliations between individual poems and doodles, but rather to analyze readers' responses to actual poem-doodle arrangements on the page, to hypothesize more generally about what it means for readers to encounter Smith's images in almost any position beside almost every poem, and to assess the meaning of Smith's production of a verbalvisual art in the context of mid-20th-century literary history and criticism. For this purpose, it is necessary to remember that in the decades when Smith was actively producing and publishing her poem-doodles, T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden dominated English poetry, war and cold war determined English politics, and an idealized domestic sphere supposedly devoid of poetry or politics defined the lives of most English women. If we agree with Barbera that "[it] would have been as unlikely for [Eliot] to decorate his serious poems with doodles as it would have been for him to sing them," it can be assumed that "Stevie Smith's decoration of her text was a subversive act" (236). Light's attention to the related issue of women writers' subversion of canonical literary history suggests that we need to prioritize questions of gender as we look more closely at relations between specific words and images in Smith's texts.
"The Photograph," from Collected Poems (145; see [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]), a short poem separated by a two inch margin from its accompanying doodle, invites precisely this kind of gendered reading. This seemingly perverse nursery rhyme achieves its comic effects by responding to the common childhood fear of parental abandonment with a verbal representation of a small, fierce child abandoning its parents. It is hard to imagine what violation could have inspired this child's rejection, but the poem and doodle suggest that it is simply the parents' act of making a photograph, of transforming their living child into an image through mechanical reproduction. From the perspective of the poem's disempowered narrator, the photograph is experienced as objectification, and objectification is experienced as an abuse of power. The abuse is realized through the transformation of a human subject into an object, into what Berger emphasizes is "most particularly an object of vision: a sight" (47).
One of the advantages of reading Smith's poem in relation to the doodle is that we can realize the gendered implications of her comic depiction of the violence of objectification. The child in question seems ambiguously gendered: the poem refers to a "he" while the picture suggests more concretely that the enraged speaker is a little girl. In either case, the feminizing petticoats guarantee the diminutive, feminine, and thus subordinate position of the child, emphasizing the inherently superior and potentially tyrannical power of the parents who dressed their child in this fashion for the photograph. Both poem and doodle suggest that any self-respecting child would refuse to provide such demanding parents with a nice, passive contrast to the tiger-skin backdrop, but the baby in the doodle is not as articulate as the one in the poem. Her mouth, a cartoon-like "O" that perfectly resists any objectifying labels like "darling," must resort to a howl. Similarly, the doodled tiger skin, with its vigorous claws and sharp whiskers, has a more rebellious presence than the child's silent ally in the poem.
Yet what happens to the vicious energy of the tiger skin in the doodle - the lively three-dimensional being suggested by the head, the direct gaze of the eyes, the sharp strokes of the whiskers - when we remind ourselves that the poem is about a photograph, a two-dimensional image? Is this energy "flattened out" once we imagine the doodle's figures inside the frame demanded by the title of the poem? This question cannot be answered with any surety since our reading of poem and doodle never confirms a static relation, but rather depends on an unstable dialectic. Readers may ignore the doodles and read the poetry first, but they can do so only because they are guided by the white space of the text's margins and in this case, a marginal doodle. One could argue, moreover, that this production of reading as an act of resistance to non-verbal, "eccentric" materials is true for all of Smith's poems, even the haunting, undoodled poems about death like "Tender Only to One" or "Black March" or "Scorpion." To read the undoodled poems is to be aware of the presence, if not the effect, of doodles on all the printed texts in her poetry volumes. The more than three-hundred doodles in the Collected Poems thus anticipate Mitchell's lesson that there is no "pure" drawing or act of reading, no poetry existing as "uncorrupted" word. In effect, Smith's doodles refuse to be purely quiet; at their "best," they can be kept down to a dull murmur, at their worst, as m The Photograph, they seem to scream and roar.
To read doodles as sound is to recall Sheryl Stevenson's analysis of the multiple voices and dialogic effects in Smith's poetry and her claim that Smith's doodling "functions like her voice in [her show-stealing] performance[s]...working for another audience - for visual rather than aural effects" (25). Stevenson's approach prepares us to read Smith's poems in terms of ecphrasis, a form that James Heifernan describes as "the verbal representation of visual representation" (3). Smith's imaginary Parents of England, busy arranging their child for a photograph, are producing for the reader formal conditions - the silent image looking back at the elevated, authoritative viewer - that are similar, if not identical, to those that Heifernan explores in Homer's lines about the shield of Achilles or Ovid's myth of Philomela. If ecphrastic poems are defined through their ability to "giv[e] voice to a mute art object," as Jean Hagstrum puts it (18), "The Photograph" also fulfills what Mitchell calls the "figural requirement" of ecphrasis. Precisely because the doodle itself is not an illustration of the figure (a photograph) in this poem, the visual object that is verbally represented must, in good ecphrastic fashion, be "conjured up" by the language that requires its absence (Mitchell 158). Yet this conjuring must compete with an alternative conjuring enacted by the doodle. The confrontation or "battle" that ensues puts revisionary pressures on our fundamental assumptions about ecphrasis itself.
The angry doodle child of "The Photograph," for example, not only joins Heffernan in challenging Gotthold Lessing's contention that the duty of pictures is to be "silent and beautiful (like a woman)" but also challenges Heffernan's own assumption that the battle of ecphrasis - "the revolution of the image against the word" - is something that happens "within the theater of language itself" (7). By putting an image for the poem in the margins surrounding the poem about an image, Smith's poem-doodles do a better job than the theorists at keeping the motion between text and image in play and proving the impossibility of determining which came first, either verbal or visual forms. By so doing, Smith's art changes the ways we talk about ecphrasis - the way we picture its theories - especially the gendering of that violent encounter imagined between image and text. Even gender-conscious critics like Heffernan do not create their theories out of work like Smith's that, while inescapably subject to the masculine "rules of the center" governing Western culture, language, and history, is created by a woman, speaks with a female voice, and adopts feminine subjects and perspectives.
To nominate Smith's poems and doodles for the role of forcing a "female" or "feminine" revision of ecphrasis does not necessarily mean that Smith or her work is feminist, but that her poems' representations of women and children and their often self-defeating rebellions against the conditions dictating their disempowerment invite feminist critique of her work. It is to affirm the utopian hope that feminist criticism can openly and systematically do what Smith's texts covertly recommend: throw a bomb into the more bombastic forms of masculine literary history and criticism.
With its apparently romantic title, "The Wedding Photograph" (425; [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]) provides ample materials for such a bomb since it confronts masculine literary-critical authority with doubled dangers: a female perspective and a marginal doodle. These dangers are compounded further if they are discussed in relation to comedy, another symptom and subset of literary triviality. In Smith's case, comedy and its pleasures emerge from our attempts to bridge formal or material gaps between her texts' words and pictures and ideological gaps exposed by her texts' treatments of sexual, gender, class, and religious codes. Our laughter at Smith's texts may be a sign of the often-uncomfortable knowledge defined by those gaps or a sign of our effort to evade that knowledge through the distractions of comedy. Smith's laughter-inducing "The Wedding Photograph," with its curious doodle in the lower right-hand corner of the page, helps us locate the uncomfortable or unacknowledged meanings that may lurk or romp under comedy's beguiling cloak.
As in the previous poem about posing on a tiger skin, the photograph alluded to in "The Wedding Photograph" does not record reality but rather disguises it. Although we do not see this photograph, the poem leads us to imagine that any casual observer would recognize a perfectly conventional picture of a blushing bride and proud groom. Only the bride and her confidants (the poem's readers) realize that the wedding photograph is really a picture of a femme fatale and her hapless victim. Of course the poem gathers its dark, comic energy from the discrepancy between image and reality, appearance and intention. The obvious comic discrepancy is between Harry's innocent assumption of having acquired a pretty bride, a picture-perfect "prize," and his misfortune of actually having been acquired. The speaker of the poem plans to reverse the process of objectification guaranteed by her society's gendered double standard. She will use Harry as an object, a prize, that will insure her the freedom to roam before she feeds him to the lions. Like the parents in "The Photograph," Harry will pay a tremendous price simply for playing by his society's rules. To the extent that Smith's readers recognize the misogynistic assumptions underlying those rules and can identify with the speaker's desire to make someone else feel their dangerous effects, they will enjoy all the more thoroughly the humor of the poem.
The doodle has the potential to make us realize our complicity with common English gender codes and thus the boldness of Smith's playful resistance to them. Without the accompanying text, the doodle would seem innocuous enough, a harmless image of a young woman in a dress and fancy hat. The only suggestion that the figure could function as more than a random decoration lies in the girl's raised hand. This motion, the familiar feminine disguise of laughter that admits laughter's impropriety, connects the seemingly innocent doodle with the evil glee of the poem. Reading poem and doodle together, the ideological meanings of the joke in the poem deepen precisely because it is so easy to overlook the implications of the girl's raised hand. Are we privy to the source of the girl's secret smile? or are we ready, like Harry, to dismiss it as part of the standard scenery of a wedding photograph?
These questions are generated by another uncertainty or discrepancy, this time over our role as reader of "The Wedding Photograph." The poem's first words of "Goodbye Harry" insure that we distance ourselves from Harry and his luckless fate and identify with the canny, cruel bride who has the "upper hand." In effect, Smith's reader functions as the recipient of a joke, or what Freud calls the necessary "third person" whose laughter completes a three-cornered joking situation. The other two corners of the joke-triangle are formed by the teller of the joke (here, the narrator-bride) and the mediating presence of a second, resisting butt (Harry) upon whom the joke is played. The crucial difference between Freud's joking situation and that formed by"The Wedding Photograph" is that Smith reverses the sex of each of Freud's players. In Freud's scheme, modeled on the paradigmatic joking situation of "smut," every joker is necessarily male, every mediating butt of the joke necessarily female, and every cooperative listener necessarily male (97-101).
Curiously, the gendering of Freud's formal theory about the function of words and society duplicates, on a structural level, the gendering of theories about the relations between vision and society. Heffernan and Mitchell (not to mention feminist theorists of the gaze like Laura Mulvey, E. Ann Kaplan, and Jacqueline Rose) are united in assuming a three-cornered visual situation in which the viewer - whether artist or receptive "third person" - sees with a male gaze, creating meaning or cultural value over the passive body of a silent, feminine art object. By taking Smith's doodles into consideration, however, readers/viewers acknowledge that they are invited to envision themselves at the apex of interlocking triangles with supporting legs formed by the materials of the narrator-bride and doodle-girl, word and image, joke and visual pleasure, that throw into question supposedly universal theories about the function of language and the function of vision.
Of course Smith's challenge to such suspiciously anti-female universal theories may be overlooked because we have been trained to direct the dangers of eccentrism - the dangers of doodles - against the eccentric poet. To the extent that it is very easy to look at the doodled image of the bride and see only what Harry sees - a pleasing and harmless pretty prize - Smith's delightfully malicious attack on masculine privilege is blunted, or even reversed, so that its barbs are felt by the marginal (woman) poet, not the conventional (male) critic. Yet this interpretation can be sustained only if we deny the pleasures offered up by the poem and its joke, if we deny that meaning arises from the encounter of words and pictures across the border of the text. Once Smith's doodle is read in terms of the poem that defines it, the image threatens us with the dangers of interpretive failure that also threaten Harry. If the speaker fulfills her murderous fantasy, the costs of such failure are high indeed. Among those who may fail the interpretive test are literary critics who do not catch the jokes that emerge through relations between Smith's poetry and her doodles.
To insist that readers must take Smith's eccentric doodles seriously is to relieve the poet of some of the burden of her critics' blindness toward her humor. Feminist readers may be better able than Harry-like critics to see the ways that Smith's playful alterations of conventional gender norms are closely related to her experiments with forms eccentric to the "high" poetic tradition-her use of simple nursery rhyme sound patterns, dramatically reduced line, stanza, and poem lengths, children's perspectives and the subjects of fairy-tales, animals, or children. Those experiments do not become didactic or patronizing in part because Smith wins over her audience through comedy. In this way she is like the women writers who contributed to what Nancy Walker calls the "funny" feminism of the post-World War II American suburbs. Walker demonstrates how writers like Betty MacDonald or Margaret Halsey achieved tremendous popularity despite the fact that, in an age before the feminist movement, readers "should" have been turned away by their venomous send-ups of the (sexist) norms that guided much of American suburban home life. Walker speculates that these narratives succeeded because their social criticism was disguised by a humor that won from the reader a three-stage response of "recognition, sympathy, and assent" (101). This process of recognition, sympathy, and assent may also have been the source of Smith's popularity with a youthful 1960s audience whose members achieved a collective consciousness of their disempowerment during the same decade that the middle-class, suburban American housewife started to articulate her dissatisfaction with the status quo.
During poetry readings in the 1960s, Smith would introduce her poems to her audiences with descriptions of the doodles that accompany them in her books (Barbera 224). In these instances, Smith's words about her pictures functioned as another form of disguise that hid the less cheerful, potentially off-putting, and even downright violent elements of her poems. These violent elements, moreover, are so crucial to the ideological work of the texts that it is worth creating an ordering or interpretive category of "violent consumption" to help organize patterns of meaning in Smith's poem-doodles, meanings that have been obscured or undervalued in discussions that focus on her poems alone. In keeping with Eleanor Gordon's observation that "Hunger plays an important role in Stevie Smith's poetry" (236-37) and Lee Upton's analysis of the relation between eating and Smith's representations of animals (28), I treat the notion of consumption as a distinctive theme in Smith's work. Coupled with the notion of violence, it emphasizes productively ambiguous, rather than simply negative, associations. Whether represented as actual or desired, literal or metaphorical, consumption suggests both the "good" meanings of healthy eating and drinking, and the "bad" meanings of a withering sickness, devastating greed, or unholy passion. The category of violent consumption takes on additional ambivalent meanings for feminist readers who are alert to Smith's treatment of sexist gender codes that encourage women to deny their desires to consume (unless consumption is vital for the domestic economy). While Smith's violent consumers are not necessarily women, her treatment of the theme in all its various forms endangers conventional assumptions about the interests, perspectives, and roles of women poets.
Smith's doodles suggest four sub-categories of violent consumption, the first of which - following Upton's insights - might be titled "Animals and Humans Killing and Eating Each Other." This category includes "The Photograph" and "The Wedding Photograph," but also less famous poem-doodles like "Reversionary" (124; [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED]), which explores how the dangerous become endangered through four lines about a dying lion and, four inches down the page, a small doodle of a woebegone beast. The second category of violent consumption, which I would call "Women Eating Men," features poems that achieve their force not by representing the interdependence of more or less powerful figures for their survival, but by eliciting from readers the hard laughter that comes from the triumph of weaker figures (women) over those who typically represent more powerful authorities (men). This category includes poems and doodles such as "The Smile," in which the male narrator frets over an "ancient girl" who "turns to rend, and lives to bite" (200) and "Appetite," an obsessive chant testifying to the limitless demands of female desire (66; [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 4 OMITTED]). The mouth of the woman in the doodle mirrors the open "0" of the screaming child in "The Photograph" and reminds us that the mouth, in Camille's words, is "an ambivalent part of the body...the site of both speech and mastication" (63). Within patriarchal culture, this site of the sins of consumption becomes even more dangerous when forbidden desires are linked to female orifices and appetites.
This female desire is most likely to endanger the key myths of Western culture in poems that define a third kind of violent consumption, a category I would call "Women Eating Children." In "She said..." an exasperated mother instructs her child to "go sink or swim," as her doodled corollary in the bottom margin of the page prepares to tumble her young child into a pond (182) and in "I'll have your heart" (originally titled "Tu refuses a obeir e ta mere...!"), we hear a mother's murderous, consuming cry, "I'll have your heart, if not by gift my knife / Shall carve it out, I'll have your heart, your life" (148), as we look at a doodle of a woman holding an adult-sized, but obviously immature, girl. The dialogue between doodle and words, the pressure of each form upon the other across the white space of the page, is crucial for each of these poems, but it is perhaps most evident in the contrast between the words and picture of "The Sad Mother" (176; [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 5 OMITTED]). Although the poem addresses a "Darling little baby child," the menacing expression on the face of the mother in the accompanying doodle contradicts the initial soothing words by suggesting that love may be equivalent to pouncing on vulnerable, dependent beings.
In the fourth category of violent consumption, one I would label "Men Eating Women," poems like "Beware the Man" illustrate how gendered meanings emerge from the opposition of image and words (83; [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 6 OMITTED]). As we can see, the poem's mere two lines are dwarfed by the image of a fat man with heavy-lidded eyes and a petulant, diminished woman who is thrust into the background by his dominating form. The man's loose-lips are "small" only in their pursed expression of prim self-satisfaction; the man's girth suggests that these same lips are responsible for the consumption - whether physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual that leaves his companion so skinny and sour. Given that many of Smith's contemporaries would have assumed that big men, like bad wolves, are expressly designed to eat little girls or small women, the ambiguous threat posed by the small-mouthed man is not comically trivial but rather ideologically significant. This poem-doodle mocks the patriarchal ideal which suggests that women achieve a pure and proper gender (and thus ontological) status when they remain separate from and unequal to men. Simultaneously, the "impure" and "improper" verbal/visual forms of "Beware the Man" mock the ideals of the patriarchal literary tradition represented by Heaney and Larkin by refusing to treat poetry and doodles as separate and unequal forms, but as part of the same artistic construct.
Another telling, if limited, category of violent consumption could be constructed under the title of "God and Man Eating Each Other," and it would include poems like "God the Eater," "God the Drinker," and "The River God." Typically, however, these poems have no doodles in their margins. For example, of the three poems mentioned above, only the "smelly" and "old" pagan deity in "The River God" - described as jealously guarding the beautiful corpse of a drowned lady who was "too bold" in her bathing habits - is represented by a doodled head that hovers right below the poem's title (238). Perhaps Smith's poems about the human relation with a Christian God were too much a part of her individual poetic/religious belief system for her to risk the destabilizing impact doodles inevitably would have had on her verbal texts. Apparently, when it came to her own ideological commitments, Smith had more in common with St. Bernard than would otherwise be evident.
In any case, since as a collection the poems and doodles play off each other, we will be more likely to understand Smith's unillustrated poems once we think about their relations to her more eccentric, more "dangerous" doodled poems. This implies that the lessons about word-image relations suggested by a poem like "The Zoo" can be applied to our encounters with all of Smith's poems of violent consumption. The poem begins on an ominous note:
The lion sits within his cage, Weeping tears of ruby rage, He licks his snout, the tears fall down And water dusty London town.
He does not like you, little boy, It's no use making up to him, He does not like you any more Then he likes Nurse, or Baby Jim.
Nor would you do if you were he, And he were you, for dont you see God gave him lovely teeth and claws So that he might eat little boys.
The poem then goes on to describe the lion's proper consumption of "antelope and buffalo," and draws attention to the"unwary hunter whose 'Hallo' / Tells us his life is over here below," concluding finally with a series of deflating observations and a doodle in the bottom right-hand corner of the page (172; [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 7 OMITTED]). Like Smith's other poems of violent consumption, "The Zoo" is comic in large part because it is violent; it is the discrepancy between laughter and violence that heightens or even makes possible our awareness of each. The contribution of the doodle to our understanding of the poem's verbal material is to make us aware of the importance of difference and discrepancy in all acts of interpreting relations between texts and images. Regardless of whether or not the doodle seems to emphasize comic or violent meanings for individual readers, the act of trying to puzzle out the connection between image and verse encourages us to recognize a gap between them. In "The Zoo," Smith's doodle seems disconnected from the verse because its image of woman and child does not represent either the imprisoned, misused lion in the zoo or the idealized, fierce lion in the jungle. To make the connection, we may tell ourselves that the child in the doodle is the"little boy" addressed in the poem and that the woman is the "Nurse" who accompanies him to the zoo in dusty London town. It is also possible to connect image and verse by identifying the woman in the doodle as the narrator of the poem, one who is trying to make a "blunt" and pathetic urban lion into something romantic for a bored child. Perhaps there is a slightly sinister look on the face of the woman in the doodle because that is the expression of the poem's speaker as she contemplates with vicarious glee the imaginary violent consumption of little boys - maybe little boys who have been whining too much.
Yet to make these observations about similarities between text and image does not help us answer the questions about the relation of the doodle to the poem's dependence upon comedy and violence. Instead, they only serve to point out the inadequacy of our interpretive efforts. Even if we agree that a picture of a woman and child can illustrate a visit to the lion's cage at a zoo, we still have to contend with the gap between the sexual identity of the listening little boy in the poem and the sexual indeterminacy of the plain doodle child. There is also an unsettling gap within the image itself, since the delighted expression on the face of the androgynous baby contradicts the predatory look on the face of the woman. Why is the little boy unafraid of the story of his own proper consumption? Having just examined "The Wedding Photograph" we may be suspicious of the fancy hat and the one raised hand of the woman in "The Zoo" doodle; is she, like the bride, disguising something? Certainly, the oversized but obviously immature and helpless child does not seem to recognize the potential threat in the woman's gaze, just as Harry does not realize the threat of his bride's beautiful eyes and the parents of the baby in "The Photograph" do not realize the potential threat of placing their child on a tiger skin. Read together, these poems and images are not just potent, if goofy, parables about the dangers of human complacency in the face of thwarted raw animal power, but a statement about the dangers and angers that are produced by unimaginative, habitual patterns of reading.
After all, it is not really the possibility of consumption by a lion that threatens to imperil the child, but rather the threat of words that distract and disguise dangerous discrepancies of power. In other words, the danger is not the beast, but the narrator who identifies with the beast. The reader of "The Zoo" who wants to enjoy the poem's comedy will identify with the perspective of the speaker in the poem and the accompanying sinister woman in the doodle. As in "The Wedding Photograph," readers are invited to identify with the consumer rather than the consumed, and therefore to distance themselves from victims, be they babies or adults, who do not recognize the potential for violence and danger in pretty words or pretty women.
The description of the domesticated lion in the last stanza of "The Zoo" is a powerful representation of the poet whose "talents" for pretty words "are misused." The travesty of a blunt clawed, toothless lion behind bars is an allegory for what may happen to fierce poets who succumb to the prisons of "civilization," of the dominant, central culture and its seductive, domesticating impulses. Paradoxically, for the lion-spirited poet, survival often depends upon that very domestication, upon the public's misrecognition of the poet's verbal (or visual) images of violent consumption. Smith's poem, "Miss Snooks, Poetess," collected in the posthumous Me Again, suggests as much through its contemptuous send up of the "awfully nice" ladies' poems that win all the literary prizes (226). For women poets like Smith who refuse to play the role of a Miss Snooks, it might be necessary to disguise improper, uncivilized feelings with an inviting humor, to solicit from listeners laughter instead of horror and revulsion, to mediate the feelings of alien lions and tigers with the interposing forms of narrators who appear, on the surface at least, to solicit their readers' identification. Ironically, in sharing the taboo desires of these narrators for the violent consumption of figures like the bridegroom of "The Wedding Photograph" or the little boy of "The Zoo," readers confirm their own consumption by the poems. For Smith preserves the role of the lion for herself and her poetry, acknowledging that lion's subjection to the normalizing habits of triumphant critics who powerfully trap and confine poetic meaning in their interpretive cages, but who nonetheless can do so only by entering into the lion's territory, by accepting the risk of violent consumption within the potentially dangerous world of the poem, if only for a minute, and if only in their imaginations.
In order to appreciate how "The Zoo" might serve as a model for reading all of Smith's doodles and poems, we must see the gap, the border of white space, between the doodle of a woman and child and Smith's poem about an aging lion as the material sign of the undetermined interpretive and ideological relations existing between all images and words in Smith's poetry of violent consumption. Upon reflection, that gap also comes to belong to the act of making sense of any text, of confronting the space between reader and typeface, reality and representation, imaginative expectation and material form. Theorists like Mitchell or Foucault who have pondered the meaning of that gap can help us see how Smith's treatment of violent subjects like the consumption of a boy by a lion or a lion by a worm parallels the always destabilizing confrontation between the forms of her poetry and comic doodles. Yet Smith's texts themselves teach us that this confrontation need not take the predictably gendered forms that it has in theories about comedy, ecphrasis, or the masculine gaze. In so doing, Smith's poems remind us of another important lesson; that the artist, and perhaps especially the woman artist, who understands the dangers of eccentricity and how to disguise them, may be most successful when apparently most "childish" or most "humorous": in other words, when she is doodling in the margins of her poetry.
They photographed me young upon a tiger skin And now I do not care at all for kith and kin, For oh the tiger nature works within.
Parents of England, not in smug Fashion fancy set on a rug Of animal fur the darling you would hug,
For lately born is not too young To scent the savage he sits upon, And tiger-possessed abandon all things human.
The Wedding Photograph
Goodbye Harry I must have you by me for a time But once in the jungle you must go off to a higher clime The old lion on his slow toe Will eat you up, that is the way you will go.
Oh how I shall like to be alone on the jungle path But you are all right now for the photograph So smile Harry smile and I will smile too Thinking what is going to happen to you, It is the death wish lights my beautiful eyes But people think you are lucky to go off with such a pretty prize.
Ah feeble me that only wished alone to roam Yet dared not without marrying leave home Ah woe, burn fire, burn in eyes' sheathing Fan bright fear, fan fire in Harry's breathing.
The Lion dishonoured bids death come, The worm in like hap lingers on. The Lion is dead, his pride no less, The world inherits wormliness.
Let me know Let me know Let me go Let me go Let me have him Let me have him How I love him. How I love him.
The Sad Mother
Darling little baby child, You lie upon my breast so mild, Later you must learn to creep, But now you are entirely free to wake or sleep.
Beware the Man
Beware the man whose mouth is small For he'll give nothing and take all.
All this the lion sees, and pants Because he knows the hot sun slants Between the rancid jungle-grass, Which never more shall part to let him pass Down to the jungle drinking-hole, Whither the zebra comes with her sleek foal.
The sun is hot by day and has his swink, And sops up sleepy lions' and tigers' stink, But not this lion's stink, poor carnivore, He's on the shady shelf for ever more.
His claws are blunt, his teeth fall out, No victim's flesh consoles his snout, And that is why his eyes are red Considering his talents are misused.
The poems and drawings from Stevie Smith: The Collected Poems of Stevie Smith are copyright 1972 by Stevie Smith and are reprinted by kind permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
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KRISTIN BLUEMEL is Assistant Professor of English at Monmouth University She is the author of Experimenting on the Borders of Modernism: Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage (1997) and of articles on 20th-century British narrative, feminist theory, and comedy.…