She wrote it, she said, after reading a story in the newspaper about a drowned man whose friends thought he was just waving. (I’m thinking of John Lennon’s “A Day in the Life,” now, and wondering just how many pieces of art have come from the newspaper. In Gimme Danger, Iggy Pop makes fun of Andy Warhol for suggesting to him, “Why don’t you… just sing what it says in the newspaper?”)
“A lot of people pretend, out of bravery, really, that they are very jolly and ordinary sorts of chaps, but really they do not feel at all at home in the world or able to make friends easily,” Smith explained. “Sometimes the brave pretense breaks down…”
It’s impossible after hearing the poem not to look around at the world and wonder who is waving and who is drowning.
Here is a longer video interview in which she recites the poem and also sings:
— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) September 20, 2018