Edith Sitwell – beyond the Façade

Fifty years on from her death, I had hoped that during 2014 we would find ways for more people to discover Edith Sitwell’s work, going beyond the myths (some perpetuated by Edith herself) and going further in terms of her poetry than her best known, Façade. I am happy to report, I think we have achieved this.

Earlier in the year we held a performance poetry workshop under the auspices of the Stephen Joseph’s Theatre Out Reach Festival. In April, we had an event during Scarborough Flare based around Edith’s poetry which culminated in a group poem created by the audience . In May, young people took part in a day at Woodend Creative Industries Centre organised with the University of Hull, Scarborough campus outreach. And the Poetry Society ran an international poetry competition for their Young Poets’ Network.

Then on National Poetry Day, the 2nd of October, Dr Deborah Longworth of Birmingham University gave her talk: ‘We all have the remote air of a legend’ The Sitwells, Sitwellism  and Sitwelliana in the 1920s. Fifty people attended and from the rich discussion which followed were engaged and informed by what they heard. Deborah’s talk reminded us all that there are many routes to talking about Edith and her brothers as they were involved in supporting and bringing together all the art forms – from dance to music to visual arts to writing.

Deborah suggested that Edith had been stripped of her rightful place within the fore-front of modernist literature because she and her siblings were too self-promoting. The acolytes of modernism preached that the author should be altogether absent from their work. A stance still argued over by writers today.

I was interested to learn more about the Wheels anthologies Edith edited. I had always been curious about why she had written so eloquently about the Second World War and yet the First had not come into her poetry. I now wonder if it was because she was content with publishing the anti-war and pacifist work of others in Wheels, including that of Wilfred Owen. Perhaps she felt they had more to say than she.

We have another chance to peek behind the façade on November the 1st. Chris Beevers, archivist at the Sitwell seat of Renishaw, will be speaking at the Friends of Scarborough Library meeting. She will be talking about the private woman as revealed through her personal letters. It will fit in another piece of the ever fascinating puzzle which is Edith Sitwell.

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