Category: influential reading material


yellow daisies Australia Jon Cornford sustainability

Australian economist and theologian Jon Cornford’s latest book ‘Coming Back to Earth: Essays on Church, Climate Change, Cities, Agriculture and Eating’ is a wonderful resource and invitation for thinking deeply about personal and corporate ways  of responding to critical issues of our time such as:  “climate change; species extinction; resource depletion; pressure on the global food system; widening international tensions and conflicts; economic instability and fragility; persisting poverty and economic exploitation…” (p.9).

God has appointed us to be stewards of this earth, its water and land, its trees and flowers, its animals and birds.  To work it and keep it. To observe and serve it. God created it and saw that it was good – what do you say that it is?

You can read the full blog piece here

Copies of the book and further resources from Manna Gum are available here.

 

Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now?

 

May the Source of All Life nourish us and bind us together,
May the Wisdom of the Holy One enlighten us and enable our sharing,
And may the Courage of Holy Fire inspire is as a network of love and freedom
today and always…

And we the people say: Amen

New Testament Keynotes – Chair: Kylie Crabbe


Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now? Mark 7 greek NRSV literal

Clean and Unclean: Multiple Readings of Mark 7:24-30/31 – Dorothy Lee

 

1. MISSIONAL READING

  • Gentile mission
  • Priority of Israel
  • Postcolonialism
  • Inclusion

 

2. PEDAGOGICAL READING

  • who is teacher?
  • woman as teacher, Jesus as student
  • peirastic iroy
  • Jesus and woman as co-teachers

 

3. PARADIGMATIC READING

  • discipleship
  • spirituality
  • courage
  • women and outsiders
  • communtiy of faith
  • clean and unclean

 

4. CHRISTOLOGICAL READING

  • God and suppliant
  • Identity of Markan Jesus
  • subversive authority
  • shame and suffering
  • divine guardian and protector
  • Eucharist

 

CONCLUSION

These four ways of reading the text overlap and invite us to take the story seriously. especially in our thinking around inclusive table, diversity, cleansing and expanding borders.

‘The text is not out to get me.
There’s a radical inversion of power.
I’m not trying to rescue Jesus or the woman –
but see them through Mark’s eyes.
Dorothy Lee

 

 

Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now? Adela Yarbro Collins

The Leadership of Women in Early Christianity – Adela Yarbro Collins

Referencing mention of females in literature and inscriptions it is evident women have held positions of leadership since the very earliest days of Christianity: House churches (leadership, hosting), Apostles (commissioned by risen Christ or local community), Episkopoi (head of house churches, financial and administrative organisers), Diakonoi (messengers, envoys, mouthpieces, delegates), Presbuteroi (elders, presenters and priests)…

‘Evidence is so rare…
but indicates there would have been more’

‘Women in the early church ministered in a variety of functions, including as apostles. The literature and inscriptions only serve as evidence of what they were trying to suppress. Female leadership was approved of and recognised by both male leaders and those communities whom they served’

‘It would be great to see the Catholic church restore women to the diaconate and then to priestliness… I don’t think I’ll see that in my lifetime but I’m willing to be surprised.’

– Adela Yarbro Collins

 

 

Three short papers – Chair: Stephen Burns


Desolate, devastated, redeemed, restored: Feminist visions of Daughter Zion reframed in Deutero-Isaiah and the conversation around domestic violence in Australia today – Angela Sawyer

Key passages: Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now? zion domestic violence in Australia

  • Isaiah 49:14-26; 50:1-3; 51:17-52:6; and 54
  • Zion’s personification – what is her identity? her role?
  • Dealing with metaphors
  • Zion, violence and trauma theories

Responses:

  • raising the profile of a poetic character such as Zion
  • Zion’s voice and Zion’s silence
  • Cognitive approaches to metaphor theory, trauma theories and biblical studies
  • the benefit of this combination when reading with those in contexts of violence and trauma
  • Contextual Bible Study, creativity of expression – Zion’s metaphorical image can offer something to women experiencing domestic violence in Australia.

‘We need to reappraise texts of violence.
When we “make nice” these texts. We “make nice” the issues’
[domestic violence]

‘There is distorted and false teaching speaking to issues of family violence, male authority, divorce… we need biblical criticism not literalism to reinterpret, reframe or reject these passages.’

– Angela Sawyer

 

Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now?

Are You Shaved? A Hermeneutic of Hair Removal – Caroline Alsen

“equality feminism”, “radical (justice) feminism”, “biblical feminism”…

‘The Bible might offer answers to questions
but it’s not a women’s liberation document’
– Caroline Alsen

 

  • engaging critique of asymmetric power structures
  • move from authority to function
  • awareness, not author-ity
  • key to power = key to feminist reading

Bible talks a lot about piercing, circumcision, purification rituals… and the idea that when you lose hair you lose strength. Enemies were shaved to feminise and shame them (2 Samuel 10:4) … also ritual liminality, social humility for priests, Israel elite male gaze.

For Egyptians and Assyrians shaving was normal – when Joseph decides to shave is it an imperative of Israelite survival? assimilation? participating in the colonising? being “civilised”?

Father (Jacob) and son (Joseph) alter their hair at moments of transition of power but at the same time are feminising their Israelite identity.

 

Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now? Tamar Rachelle Gilmour

“But he would not listen to her”: Revisiting the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 – Rachelle Gilmour

Does Absolom kill Amnon as revenge for the rape of Tamar or for his own ends?

The rape of Tamar is an act against David, challenging his position as King. Absolom kills Amnon for the threat to his father and protection of his inheritance and to assert his masculinity (strength). Absolom is presented as hero and avenger but is really serving his own ends.  Tamar is silenced and has no comforter.

Parallels between 2 Samuel 13 and the concubines of 2 Samuel 16 are broken by God intervention in the latter.  But God’s intervention comes too late for Tamar or the concubines. Is God listening to Tamar? In these passages whose voice do we hear? Who is voiceless? Who has a voice but is silenced?

‘Rape is more to do with men’s power over other men
than men’s power over women’
[if the husband or father were “strong” it wouldn’t happen]

‘It’s our role to critique society then and now’

– Rachelle Gilmour

Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now?We sit in silence – holding space for brief moments to acknowledge all the complexity arising from these topics and texts…

 

Old Testament Keynotes – Chair: Katharine Massam


Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now? Gerald West

Rape, Royal Power and Resistance in 2 Samuel: Intersecting gender and class in biblical text and South African context – Gerald West

African feminist women’s theologies ‘struggle’ to emerge fro within African ‘father’ theologies: African Theology, Ujamaa Theology, SOuth African Black Theology, South African Contextual Theology.

Culture, Economics and Race are the core systems of these African liberation theologies (it’s difficult to get gender in as a point of intersectionality).

African Feminist/Women’s Theology adds ‘Patriarchy’ as a core and intersecting system.

African women tracking intersections… between gender and economics (Makhosazana Nzimande and Musa Dube)

Letters Longing for Intersection

  • From Bathsheba to her grandfather Ahithophel
  • From Tamar to Ahithophel
  • From the Pilegeshim (wives of David) to Ahithophel
  • Graffiti on the wall of Jerusalem

David has taken,
Amnon has taken,
Absolom has taken,
Ahithophel was taken…
your daughters!
Vuka!

The narrative builds tension, waiting for Ahithophel to speak.

“What shall we do?”
“Rape your father’s wives.”

Locating Ahithophel socio-historically and narratively and looking at the advice he offers what can we understand of his motivations and intentions? There are intersecting injustices… are there intersecting resistances?

Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now? Jione Havea

Terror of texts: Talanoa on three letters around Numbers 27:1-11 and 36:1-12 – Jione Havea

 

“If we save the planet and have a society of inequality,
we wouldn’t have saved much” – James H. Cone

Talanoa – story, telling, conversation

LETTER ONE

Somewhere at the meeting place of the Kulin nations:

Wurundjeri
Boonwurrung
Taungurong
Dja dua Wurrung
Wathurung

May 04, 2018
Just passed midnight

Dear Ana Loiloi…

A story is told of five named sisters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah.

They raise 6 things and the Lord answers… 1.

Talanoa has the capacity to create history and truth.
Talanoa ridicules the private-public divide.

 

LETTER TWO

Dear Sela Kakala…

We hear your name and we remember you. I’m wandering and wondering tonight how your children lives will be different without you.

Where is the mother of these 5 sisters? Their mother is nowhere in their story.

  • do they share the same Mum?
  • would the story be different if she was alive?
  • are they making this claim for their rights at their mothers’ urging?

We give her a name.  That name is: Kulin.
We resist by reclaiming her, giving her a name, and putting her back into the story.

Talanoa is not about telling everything

  • talanoa is particular
  • talanoa is partial
  • talanoa holds back

 

LETTER THREE

Dear Diya Lakai…

If the sisters are married into mother Israelite tribe, then their inheritance will go with them.  Moses adjusts the rules so that the sisters must marry one of their own tribe, keeping the wealth within their tribe.

  1. See, judge, act for yourself and your company
  2. Resistance is good. Find company. Solidarity is empowering.
  3. Challenge the written [laws].  Don’t limit yourself to those causes which affect only humans.  See islands lost. Grieve. Try and save others.
  4. Beware of materiality.  Read Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise
  5. Find more mother’s for Kulin’s daughters.
  6. Marry who you want when you grow up. See, judge, act for yourself. Live beyond the shadows of your father.

P.s. read your Bible carefully.

“I like letters – you can tear, hold, keep, read, share them…
but they can be a resistance too.”

– Monica Melanchthon

“Reading texts and doing bible study with marginalised
people brings their voice, that of ordinary women,
and brings them to the conference.
We need to run bible study that
ordinary people can access.”

– Gerald West

Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies the state of feminist biblical scholarship 11 May 2018 where are we now? candle and pine table pieces

war memorial footscray lest we forget avenue of honour ANZAC Day 2018

This ANZAC day as we remember those who lost their lives in WW1 and WW2 we also acknowledge all of those who lost their lives in the Frontier Wars.

We acknowledge people of the Kulin Nation stalked game, collected food and fished along the river junctions, estuaries, oceans, swamps and lagoons of this place since time immemorial. They met, raised families, shared songs and stories.  We acknowledge this way of life was interrupted during white settlement and that this country was the scene of conflicts between the Kulin Nation people and the European colonisers.

You won’t see any war memorials depicting the Frontier Wars. When Aboriginal people mourn the loss of a family member they follow Aboriginal death ceremonies, or ‘sorry business’. It is believed that when a person dies, their spirit goes back to the Dreaming Ancestors in the land if the correct ceremonies rituals are conducted.  The tradition not to depict dead people or voice their (first) names is very old  – traditional law across Australia said that a dead person’s name could not be said because you would recall and disturb their spirit. After the invasion this law was adapted to images as well.

Aunty Margaret Parker from the Punjima people in north-west Western Australia describes what happens in an Aboriginal community when someone dies.

“…when we have someone passed away in our families and not even our own close families, the family belongs to us all, you know. The whole community gets together and shares that sorrow within the whole communityWe have to cry, in sorrow, share our grief by crying and that’s how we break that [grief], by sharing together as a community.

If you are interested in thinking further on this subject more you might visit NGV’s “Colony: Frontier Wars” exhibition on until 15 July 2018 or  read Richard Flanagan’s recent Press Club speech online. As we remember the grief of those lives lost in wars today the following poem by indigenous artist Zelda Quakaroot, from Mackay, Queensland might be a way to share our grief as a community. This poem was inspired by AFL player Adam Goodes, on the subject of war it may not be that “our voices have been heard” yet but we can be grateful for the space to hold grief as a community today for the fallen in war – named and unnamed.

 

STAND STRONG

Our ancestors spirits
Are here…
Respect never retires
Stand up
We’ve marched
Our voices have been heard;
Stand here
Where we belong
Stand altogether
With our passionate hearts
For respect
We all stand strong.

Sources: Wikipedia and Creative Spirits


 

I know nothing about anything.  I just need to get that out there. I make some presumptive connections above about why there might not be indigenous war memorials and sort of appropriate the “unnamed soldier” for my own poetic ends… The most I have heard about the Frontier Wars was on Monday at the Indigenous Hospitality House‘s Learning Circle.  I’m a you-have-to-start-somewhere kind of person and the second step in acknowledging you know nothing about something is to say: Why don’t I know about this? How can I find out more?  The above is a very hastily cobbled together poster I made very late last night… it didn’t arise out of any wisdom or stakeholder consultation (I’m sorry for that), it didn’t even get spell checked (crap!) it arose out of a deep sense of conviction that I should know more about what I know nothing about and wanting to give hands and feet to that commitment urgently.  Richard Flanagan’s Press Club speech is so pertinent to our times I wish everyone in Australia would read it.

In the meantime… I did a little morning vigil of my own putting these up in Footscray’s Memorial Park and on the Avenue of Honour plinth because I want to see Frontier Wars become part of the conversation… I want to have the conversation… and I can’t get to Canberra for the Frontier Wars March.

 

Squatter Henry Meyrick wrote in a letter home to his relatives in England in 1846:
The blacks are very quiet here now, poor wretches. No wild beast of the forest was ever hunted down with such unsparing perseverance as they are. Men, women and children are shot whenever they can be met with … I have protested against it at every station I have been in Gippsland, in the strongest language, but these things are kept very secret as the penalty would certainly be hanging … For myself, if I caught a black actually killing my sheep, I would shoot him with as little remorse as I would a wild dog, but no consideration on earth would induce me to ride into a camp and fire on them indiscriminately, as is the custom whenever the smoke is seen. They [the Aborigines] will very shortly be extinct. It is impossible to say how many have been shot, but I am convinced that not less than 450 have been murdered altogether.[2]     Source

Please see also Lyndall Ryan‘s interactive (partially completed) massacre map for violence near you…

 

What are war memorials for by the way… Remembering? Honouring? Celebrating? Prayer? Prevention? Cure? Should they be educational so that understanding the horror of war we might be dissuaded from ever participating in them by being transparent about the cost of war and violence – personal and political? Should they advocate for alternate and non-violent approaches? Make connections to waves of migration and refugees?

Ironically, the only one at Footscray’s war memorials this morning was me.  There are no flowers or wreaths, no events, no mourners although I saw a few folks in uniform heading for the local RSL.  The memorial has had a revamp recently, the Australian Government is commiting a lot to doing them up in upcoming years on top of the $100 million spent on a new museum in France, apparently there are a total 5-6 Frontier War memorials in all of Australia, maybe we could get a new museum here on country?

I confess I don’t feel as much as I think I should, I have ringing in my head the chorus “Lest We Forget” but we cannot remember what we do not know, how selective are the stories we’re being taught? And I wonder… have I forgotten what I’m supposed to remember?

What are we forgetting?
What are we remembering?

war memorial footscray lest we forget avenue of honour ANZAC Day 2018war memorial footscray lest we forget avenue of honour ANZAC Day 2018

I read some of the plaques at the memorial garden overlooking the Maribyrnong river and the racecourse.  The catch-cry of the funding appeal for planting the Avenue of Honour back in the day was that the memorial would be “…dedicated to citizens who fell in ANY war in which Australia has been engaged.” Could this language create space for remembering lives lost in the Frontier Wars?  One plaque quotes the widow of Private GF Blake of Footscray from an In Memoriam message in The Age ‘Each day I miss his footsteps/As I walk through life alone‘.  Walking is evocative language in this country, what learned wisdom about following in our elders first footprints and following songlines have to teach us about grief? What symbolism might we share of trails that end unexpectedly, or songs that are lost before they can be passed on, can we learn from?

Don’t forget to remember.   Let’s keep talking about what that means.

 

20180113_141052

‘I would like to go, stupidly, towards the bodies that my anxiety has kept me from.’
– Guy Hocquenghem, ‘The Screwball Asses’

I will be content with nothing less that the total and complete destruct-
tion of my body. Now is not the time to be flippant, now is the time to be
sincere, and helpful, but I still say, ‘I like to sleep with people who could
break my ribs id they chose to’. It’s stupid because couldn’t anyone, phys-
ically? And wouldn’t they?

Smashed ceramic chips are like fingernails, kept clipped short
and ragged, scraping over your legs. No two chips are identical. Rough
snaggles, little knives. Obsessively clipped every day. I love forms that
take a long time to set. I love thinking about waiting for the grout to dry.
Thin cylinders, almost meeting in the corner of the room. At the same
time smooth, especially aesthetically, and rough, like a secret. I feel like
I’m visiting the clinic, and I’m into it.

I was clearing away the cups from tea and coffee after group.
There was a tea bag bound to a stirring stick, the string wound tightly
around. In sharing time he said, ‘If you can’t be a faggot, why be a man at
all?’ and honked, a nervous burst of laughter. When he was not speaking
I looked at him. His shoulders hung forward with many years of habit,
the same as mine. The things I love looking at are the things that are the
same as me, or spaces where I can see that I could be too; there but for
the grace of God go I. When he was speaking, I looked away. It’s just a
wrapper. A vessel.

I like to think about bending steel. To make something look like it
flutters but allow it to be still. Allow something so precious to evaporate
into the air. Less death wish, more stability. It’s good to have a role, you
whispered, handing me a tray of raw meat, not looking at me. ‘everybody
treats you like a boy until you say you are one’. The bruise becomes the
unmistakable centre of the long neck. The neck becomes negative and
the bruise positive. Like the neck exists only o support the bruise. Like
this vessel exists only to support what’s inside of it. To see your pulse in
light blue. To feel your heart beating in your skin. ‘These things we do,’
he says. ‘they never used to come naturally to me,’ Nothing even really
happens, but the interiority is so overpowering, so strong. The blood is
at the surface.

An excerpt from the stunning work of Spence Messih with Vincent Silk and many other artists are now on display as part of the UNFINISHED BUSINESS: Perspectives on art and feminism exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 15 Dec 2018-25 March 2018. Free entry. Check it out!

 

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leonard cohen

You are with me still.

Even though I have been removed, and my place does not recognise me. Even though I have filled my heart with stones. And my beloved says, I will wait a little while behind the curtain – no, I have waited too long. You are with me still. Though I scorched away the tears of return in the forced light of victory, your rebuke still comforts me, you signify yourself among the dangers. Saying, Use this fear to know me, fix this exile toward my return. Though I am unwept, it is your judgement parches me.  Though my praises for you are under ban, it is the balance of your mercy. And you are with me still. Saying, Search this out, it is you who have hidden yourself. Saying, Clear me in your troubled heart. Saying, I will come to you. Saying, I am here. Though I add membrane to membrane against your light, and heap up cities on the husk of your rebuke, when the sun and the moon are shining in the other pan, and you advance me through the solitude by such a kind degree, and you create the world before my eyes, and the one who hides in self-disgrace cannot say Amen, O slow to anger, you are with me, you are with me still.

 

excerpt from Book of Mercy, Leonard Cohen

 

there's no expiry on you graffiti footscray

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“Consider what has been lost, grieve it and acknowledge the ache.Grow in your own strength. Know you are loved, wanted and needed… tell us how best to do this through the assertion of your will. The way you let, and encourage, us to be us… this is a gift. when you connect with your essence, you show us how too. Have your solitude. Find all you have to offer – don’t cheat yourself… don’t cheat us either.”

 

Just in case, by some miracle, you have gotten this far in life without hearing of the Enneagram it’s a personality test based on 9 interconnected types.  You can do a basic test and find out more about the types here if you’re interested.   The quote above relates to Type 2: The Helper.

Ryan O’Neal, Sleeping at Last (you may be familiar with his music anyway from shows like Bones, Grey’s Anatomy or movies like Twilight and The Fault In Our Stars…) is writing a song for each of the Enneagram types that is designed to speak to the heart of what that type longs to hear.  His music and words are soulful and melodic anyway… now they make you cry from the acceptance and affirmation.  He’s including “fingerprints” (little sound bites) in each track submitted by friends and family that are of that personality type – definitely worth a listen to better understand yourself and others. #layers

Propagate love not fear if you see something beautiful, say something.

ladder of inference stephanie crowley

As someone who lives in community I love getting my hands on “new” resources that help navigate that tricky territory of communication and expectations. I can frequently assume I know what’s going on from data, interpretation, assumptions, generalisations, conclusions… I’m a pro ladder climber – often this is fine as long as its sensitive, empathetic, preferably based out of relationship and knowing… as a personal assistant it’s great for anticipating what my team will need and preparing for it but sometimes I’m in a hurry, I skip some rungs or climb them quickly and am taking action based on decisions I’ve made that haven’t necessarily been consultative or correct.

Rehabilitative Pro tips:

  • cultivate curiosity and ask questions – is there data available I could access that I haven’t?
  • we like stories. We like stories to have a beginning a middle and an end. Sometimes a ladder climb can be the result of trying resolve or control a situation, for yourself or someone else, that is still in progress. Take a breath and consider whether your current circumstances as they are have something to teach you. There are no shortcuts. Sit with the tension of the breadth of possibility and DON’T DO OR DECIDE ANYTHING.
  • listen carefully and reflectively – check in whether what you think you understand is the message the other person is trying to deliver
  • be self-aware – sit with the initial gut/emotional response. Where does it comes from? Does what you are thinking and feeling lead you to want to “fill in the gaps” of what you don’t know?
  • good data = good information, good information = good decisions
  • there is no substitute for attaining clarity like good communication – use morning pages or catch ups more than you think you need

IMG_8646

A short introduction to the life and work of Stevie Smith for the Spiritual Reading group meeting at the Carmelite Library in Middle Park.  After a short talk to contextualise the work of the artist we read some of the works aloud and hold shared discussion reflecting on what they might mean…

Stevie was born Florence Margaret Smith in 1902. At 3 years of age, the marriage of Stevie’s parents broke down and she moved with Mum, Ethel and big sister Molly from Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire to Palmers Green in North London. Contact with her father, who was in shipping, became single line postcards saying things like: “Off to Valparaiso, Love Daddy”

Contracting tuberculosis peritonitis  at 5, Stevie was taken to a sanatorium at Broadstairs in Kent for 3 years. Being separated from her family was hard and Stevie has said that this is when her preoccupation with death and fear arose.

When Stevie’s mother Ethel became ill, Madge Spear, affectionately referred to as “The Lion Aunt” came to live with them, raising Stevie and Molly.  A feminist who had no patience with men, formidable Aunt Madge raised a family of women attached to their own independence counter-cultural to the ruling Victorian idea that “father knows best”. When she was 16, Stevie’s mother died.

Stevie studied at Palmers Green High School then went to Mrs Hoster’s secretarial academy – the North London Collegiate School.  It was around 17 the “Stevie” moniker came into common use arising from riding in the park with a friend who commented that she reminded him of the champion jockey Steve Donoghue.

Stevie suffered depression all her life that expressed as nervousness, shyness and intense sensitivity.  Straight out of the Collegiate school Stevie became a secretary at a magazine publishing company, and eventually became the private secretary to Sir Neville Pearson with Sir George Newnes and Newnes Publishing Company where she worked 1923-1953.  In this time Stevie had published 3 autobiographical novels and 4 of the 9 volumes of poetry published in her lifetime.  The themes of her work traverse: loneliness, myth and legend, absurd vignettes, war, human cruelty and religion.  Stevie’s line drawings, which she called her “higher doodling” often weren’t published with her poems, that happened later when collected works were published, and the pictures weren’t necessarily drawn to go with particular works but she would merely pick out whatever seemed appropriate.  They often lend a note of whimsy to words of touching depth or sharp parody to her satirical set-downs.  Stevie used comedy to talk about dark things and used the tools of her craft to resist domestic ideology around class, religion, marriage…

While her early novels and volumes of poetry were a great success, the work of the 1940s and early 1950s had been less well-received. She was seen as eccentric and the style of her poetry out-of-fashion.  One account suggests Stevie invalided out and was given a full pension following a nervous breakdown at work that led to her attempting suicide at her desk after an incident threatening her boss with a pair of scissors but another says perhaps more discretely that Aunt Madge became bedridden and Stevie left work to care for her. Stevie perceived death as she did god, someone perhaps to have a dialogue with ‘scolding for taking her loved ones and those whom the world will miss’, someone she had to acknowledge and comes to terms with the existence of. Stevie has said that she was “so consoled by the idea of death as release” that she didn’t have to commit suicide it was enough to know that death was there to look forward to. This god death is often expressed as kinder in her writing than the God of church and religion.

A come back after the period 1953-1955 when Punch was almost exclusively the only established periodical willing to publish her work. Stevie undertook a collaboration with Elisabeth Lutyens and Heidi Anderson when she struggled to find other outlets for her writing.  The arrangement and performance of her poems between her own readings were very engaging for audiences and led to Stevie eventually developing her own unique performance style of singing her poems.

Between readings Stevie would often sing, using sonorities and tonalities for effect, 2 or 3 of her works to familiar tunes she borrowed from Anglican hymns, folk melodies, popular music hall songs, a military march or tunes she made up in these styles.  While setting hilarious captions to the table book “Cats in Colour” in 1959 was I’m sure, a highlight, it may have been surpassed by receiving the Queens’ Gold Medal for Poetry in 1969. The last decade of her life saw her increasingly in demand to give readings not only to societies but schools.

Stevie died from a brain tumour 7 March 1971

Katherine Firth’s thesis on “The MacNeices and their Circles: Poets and Composers in Collaboration” provides insightful context of the time and place of Stevie’s writing.  The influence of modernism in the 1920s-30s had a destabilising effect on meanings – skilled practitioners were able to create works that reflected their own ambivalences, scepticisms and self-criticisms and you see a lot of this in Stevie’s writing – especially on the subject of religion.  Resisting her High Anglican and Tory Aunts’ influences with her lefty friends. This group of friends were influenced by Aristotle’s writing on poetry on the root word for poetry and action being the same so there was a sense that the words should be working to explain or impart something.

While Stevie lived a largely secluded and celibate life, aside from a few flings with both men and women, Stevie was a resolutely autonomous woman and rejected the idea that she was lonely.  Intimate relationships with friends and family kept her fulfilled. This was a time of cliques and gangs – groups of writers, producers, painters, composers, performers and critics that interacted socially and professionally in overlapping circles while retaining distinct identities.  Stevie corresponded and socialised widely with other writers and creative artists. She was chief bridesmaid and Louis MacNeice the best man at the wedding of the novelist Olivia Manning to the poet Reggie Smith. George Orwell was close and Sylvia Plath a fan.

New West End venues, technological advances and the rise in the role of the BBC in disseminating music were changing performance media.  Contemporary composers were looking to their poet-peers for lyrics, there were a range of styles of popular music and they borrowed from each other.  There was a desire convey Modernist idioms to reach a broader social and cultural context, making music and poetry relevant to the political and economic circumstances of the audiences listening. There was an idea that a poems words will do its work on someone if it is palatably wrapped as a hymn or cabaret tune.  The music groups of the day wanted audiences to be improved AND entertained.

Susan Thurman’s thesis provides this concise synopsis:

“Smith’s poetry reveals three major attitudes toward religion, which sometimes overlap: first, she is the agnostic who cannot make up her mind–she has faith in a god in whom she does not want to believe, yet she loses faith in a god in whom she does want to believe. Second, she often writes poems which confidently reject God; she is the atheist expressing approval of the decline of organized religion, strongly attacking both the Catholic and Anglican Churches. She vehemently rejects God and Christianity in such atheistic poems as being untrue, but if possibly true, then cruelly unfair. Third, however, she is a believer who replaces the Christian God of eternal damnation with what she views as a more merciful God of her own making. She tries desperately to create a God for herself in whom she can believe.” As she says of herself in her image on the poster for today’s event: “In yielding and abnegation I spend my days”.

Stevie often attracted labels like “eccentric”, “odd”, and “difficult” with causality attributed to her gender… Not Waving But Drowning is one of Stevie’s most well-known works speaking to our individual isolation within society.  Between the poem and the paradoxes of Stevie’s own life: participant or observer, believer or atheist, here to live or here to die? Cynthia Zarin draws a parallel – saying “she is at once the stranger and the traveller, both waving and drowning” – we’re going to wrap this up with Stevie reading that piece, it runs for about 2 mins and you’ll hear her at the start describing what the work was about…

References/Further Reading:

Anne Bryan. “Stevie Smith and God
Katherine Firth. “The MacNeices and their Circles: Poets and Composers in Collaboration on Art Song 1939-54”
Stevie Smith. “Some Are More Human Than Others.”
Stevie Smith. “Stevie Smith Collected Poems”
Stevie Smith. “Two in One: The Frog Prince and Other Stories/Selected Poems”
Susan E. Thurman. “The themes of God and Death in the Poetry of Stevie Smith
Cynthia Zarin. “The Uneasy Verse of Stevie Smith”

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1  Me nolentum fata trahunt is a play on a line from the Roman Seneca: Ducunt volentem Fata, nolentem trahunt. This means “Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling”. So, Stevie Smith’s line means “because Fate drags me, unwilling”.

 

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All rights to this work belong to the Stevie Smith Estate with Faber & Faber and have been reproduced here for educatonal purposes only.