Charles Ipcar (Ethiopia 1965-68) has co-edited The Complete Poetry of Cicely Fox Smith with James Saville. They collected 640 poems of this British poet from the early 20th century, 90 of which have been adapted for singing and recorded by members of the folk music community around the world. The book is available for sale via Amazon. com.
Cicely Fox Smith was described by a reviewer as the “poet of the sea.” This accolade was not casually given or thinly deserved, it was a considered evaluation of the immense body of work that was admired universally by all, and in particular those who sailed and were of the sea. For the first time, this book, “The Complete Poetry of Cicely Fox Smith,” brings all her poetry together in one book for all to see not only the quantity, but the quality of her poetry.
Cicely Fox Smith was born February 1, 1882, and was well-educated at The Manchester High School for Girls from 1894 to 1897, where she described herself later as “something of a rebel,” and started writing poems at a comparatively early age. She published her first book of verses when she was 17 and it received favorable press comments.
She had a fierce desire to travel to Africa but eventually settled for a voyage to Canada, residing for the most part in the James Bay neighborhood of Victoria, British Columbia, from 1912 to 1913. Her spare time was spent roaming nearby wharves and alleys, talking to residents and sailors alike. She listened to and learned from the sailors’ tales until she too was able to speak with that authoritative nautical air that pervades her written work.
On November 23, 1913, Cicely returned to England. She soon put her experiences to use in a great outpouring of poetry, some of it clearly focused on supporting England’s World War I efforts. Much of her poetry was from the point of view of the sailor. In fact, the detailed nautical content of her poems made it easy to understand why so many readers presumed that she was male. She was familiar with life at sea as few armchair amateurs would ever be. It was only when she was well-established that she started routinely using the by-line “Miss C. Fox Smith” or “Cicely Fox Smith.” Cicely had her poetry published in a wide variety of magazines and newspapers but most notably Punch magazine for which she wrote many poems between 1914 and her death in 1954. She later re-published most of these poems in her poetry books. In all, she published some 640 poems. In her life she also published a wide range of books including romantic novels and children’s books and also contributed many literary reviews for Punch magazine and the Times Literary Supplement. Her literary outpourings were such as to persuade the Government to award her, at the age of 67, a modest pension for “her services to literature.” She kept writing to the end of her life about many things and many places but always with the accuracy and knowledge of an expert. Cicely Fox Smith died on April 8th, 1954, in the village of West Hasle Bow, Devon.
Cicely is now rapidly gaining a wider appreciative audience as more and more musicians set her poems to music and produce many fine songs, primarily in the nautical folk song tradition; over 80 of her poems have so far been adapted for singing and have been recorded.