“Always Trembling on the Brink of Poetry”: Katherine Mansfield, Poet

Gerri Kimber

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Abstract: Today, Katherine Mansfield is well known as one of the most exciting and cutting-edge
exponents of the modernist short story. Little critical attention, however, has been paid to her poetry,
which seems a strange omission, given how much verse she wrote during the course of her life, starting
as a very young schoolgirl, right up until the last months prior to her death in 1923. Even Mansfield
devotees are not really familiar with any poems beyond the five or six that have most frequently been
anthologised since her death, and few editions of her poetry have ever been published. Mansfield’s
husband, John Middleton Murry, edited a slim volume, Poems, in 1923, within a few months of her
death, followed by a slightly extended edition in 1930, and Vincent O’Sullivan edited another small
selection, also titled Poems, in 1988. Unsurprisingly, therefore, critics and biographers have paid little
attention to her poetry, tending to imply that it is a minor feature of her art, both in quantity and,
more damagingly, in quality. This situation was addressed in 2016, when EUP published a complete
and fully annotated edition of Mansfield’s poems, edited by myself and Claire Davison, incorporating
all my recent manuscript discoveries, including a collection of 36 poems—The Earth Child—sent
unsuccessfully by Mansfield to a London publisher in 1910. This discovery in 2015 revealed how,
at the very moment when Mansfield was starting to have stories accepted for commercial publication,
she was also taking herself seriously as a poet. Indeed, had the collection been published, perhaps
Mansfield might now be celebrated as much for her poetry as for her short stories. Therefore, this
article explores the development of Mansfield’s poetic writing throughout her life and makes the case
for her reassessment as an innovative poet and not just as a ground-breaking short story writer.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


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