Through direct, colloquial language and often intense imagery, Catherine Smith invites the reader into a world at once familiar and unsettling. Her poems display a gift for teasing significance from relatable personal experience: vivid dreams of secondary school exams; the odd intimacies of the local swimming pool; a group watching a WWII bomber plane fly over, that "stays up there by some collective will". But this everyday subject matter is rarely merely ordinary, and frequently transformed to disconcerting effect; producing poems that "dare to push", as the poet Susan Wicks has noted, "at the half-shut doors of adolescence, parenthood and female sexual experience and explore their strangeness". The blurred divisions between past and present, intimacy and violence, even reality and fiction, are central to Smith's poetry; from the strangely erotic yet tragic tale of 'The Ewe', to the poet's car trip with her grandfather in 'The Biting Point', "thirty years dead and still curmudgeonly", "triumphant / as the engine warbles its surprise".
A writer of prose and drama as well as poetry, Catherine Smith teaches for the University of Sussex, the Arvon Foundation, and runs a creative writing enrichment group for youngsters; unsurprising for a poet whose own writing bustles with people of all kinds. Widely admired, her three poetry collections to date have been shortlisted for several prizes and in 2004, she was named among "the twenty most exciting poets to have published a first collection in the last ten years" as part of the PBS/Guardian's 'Next Generation Poets' promotion. It is Smith's ability to pique and sustain the reader's interest through direct address and, at times, queasy detail, which ensures the success of her work. Take 'How It All Started', the opener on this Archive recording: "Do you know this dream?", the poet queries, before feats of association lead to the potent image of "a soldier's / booted foot lying in a puddle": "how the rest of him wasn't there, just a stump / of bone". Throughout Smith's reading of these edgy, compelling poems, the curious and the disturbing are forever bubbling to the surface.
Much of this lively yet quietly insistent recording draws on Smith's third collection, Lip: a book praised by Daljit Nagra as "funny and intelligent - a unique comic-serious exploration of the conflicts between contemporary mores and physical desires". But in addition to earlier work, readings of several impressive new poems are included, not least 'The Set of Optics You Wouldn't Let Me Buy in Portobello Road Market, September 1984'. In this elegy for an object desired but denied - a hymn to hope, unrealised ambitions, chances taken and chances lost - Smith's lingering, evocative tone reveals a real passion for the diversely rich detail of the everyday. Along with the rest of the poems showcased, it fully confirms her publisher's description of her writing as "always convincingly well-observed, imaginative and, ultimately, life-affirming".
Catherine Smith's recording was made on 19th February 2010 at Pier Productions, Brighton and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.
Catherine Smith's Favourite Poetry Sayings:
"A poem is a novel without the waffle."
- Ian Duhig
2000 Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition Winner
2001 Forward Prize for Best First Collection (shortlist), The New Bride
2003 Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection, The Butcher's Hands
2008 Forward Prize for Best Collection (shortlist), Lip