Critics of Stevie Smith’s work often lean on the word “flat.” Usually, the term is meant to evoke Smith’s “simplicity” and lack of ornamentation, her refusal to lift into “poetic resonance,” or her unreadable tone. This essay attends more closely to flatness in Smith’s work, exploring the ways Smith finds flatness fascinating and proposing that the language of the “flat,” in all its senses, offers an illuminating way of grappling with the difficulty of her puzzling and unsettling prose and poetry. It unpacks the idea of the “flat”—a word that claims implicitly that no unpacking remains to be done—foregrounding the diversity of flatness’s associated emotions, as well as the ways it remains compelling. Drawing out the breadth of aesthetic and interpretative connotations that flatness holds for her, the essay argues, provides a coherent way of reading her work. Beginning with an examination of how “feeling flat” involves, for Smith, a diverse and complex set of emotions, the essay moves into outlining how flat landscapes offer Smith a mode of lingering habitation that derives its interest precisely from the absence of anything evidently interesting. In the process, it offers a critical language with which to approach other twentieth-century writers, such as D. H. Lawrence, whose work has remained elusive precisely because of its insistence that it has made its meaning abundantly available—that it has nothing to hide.

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