Here are three pieces of writing about Vivian Smith’s work; the author’s comments on The Other Side of Things, Sybille Smith’s analysis of The Man Fern at the Bus Stop and Stephen Edgar’s review of the Smith’s latest book Along the Line.
Your group might like to read one or all three of these short pieces and consider a particular poem – The Man Fern at the Bus Stop would be an easy start but you might like to use Sybille Smith’s commentary as an example of how you might look at the other poems.
Author comments from Vivian Smith:
When I first started to write I was determined to use place names in the titles of my poems.
Hobart, Tasmania, where I was born always seemed to me such a beautiful and unique place, and Tasmanian history so puzzling and fascinating, and I was conscious that much of it had not been written about before.
I have a very painterly eye and I wanted my early poems to do what some of the Tasmanian painters like Jack Carrington Smith and Edith Holmes were doing at the time.
But the simple fact is that Hobart, which I did not leave for the first time until I was 21, was the place of my upbringing and schooling, and these experiences are inevitably woven into many of my poems.
As my life and employment changed, I moved to Sydney where I still live, and this new setting is reflected in a variety of ways.
Since then I have travelled overseas on several occasions and there are references to Europe and Asia in some poems.
‘History’, for instance, was inspired by a walk across a park in Paris on a return visit just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and another outbreak of war in the Middle East; ‘Slope with Boulders’ draws on images from Fern Tree on the side of Mount Wellington, Hobart, but also calls up images from my first visit to Pompeii in the early 1960’s. A few years ago on train trip to Canberra I noticed a whole stretch of beautiful boulders exactly like those in my poem so that when I have reprinted it I have omitted reference to any specific location as there are slopes with boulders throughout Australia.
‘Summer of the Ladybirds’ recalls the long hot summer of a sabbatical leave I spent in Switzerland with my wife and children. But poems are never about one thing or one place only: they are complex interweavings of many different strands and elements. I could just as well say that ‘Summer of the Ladybirds’ is a poem of regret - regret for inevitable change and time passing, a poem about the vanity of human wishes.
There are many different ways of writing poetry and many different reasons for writing it. I think it was Philip Larkin who said that poems are a way of remembering. I like that and wish I had said it first. He also said that writing and reading poems should be a pleasure. I don’t think that one can get past that.