Tag Archives: Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell – the mask slips….

Edith - web imageSaturday the 25th April, I had a real treat, I went to see the one-woman play, ‘Edith, Elizabeth and I’ at the Harrogate studio theatre. I say one-woman, but it didn’t feel that way, as the main premise of the piece is an imagined conversation the creator-actor Jules Craig has with poet Edith Sitwell. Oh and another feisty woman makes an appearance, Queen Elizabeth the first.

The one-hour we spend in the company of these remarkable women is intense, fast-paced and, by moments, funny and poignant. Yes we learn something about Edith Sitwell’s life and we hear some of her poetry and words deftly delivered by Craig. However, this is biography on the slant, and all the more enjoyable and rich for that. As we are pulled into the piece, we really begin to believe we are privy to an intriguing tête-à-tête, as Craig skilfully inhabits Edith and Elizabeth and nimbly moves from one to the other to herself, and back again.

Above all, the performance is thought-provoking. When we set out to tell another’s stories, are we, in fact, only finding a way of telling our own? What parts do gender, childlessness and love play in a woman’s creative life? How do we reconcile the roles we play with the real us hiding behind the mask?

Jules Craig told the Yorkshire Post (14th April 2015): ‘Edith was very much an individual who forged her own path and that’s part of what I am celebrating in the piece – being your own person, even if you are living outside of society slightly.’

‘Edith, Elizabeth and I’ took some time in the research and development stage. Jules explained to the YP, ‘Telling someone else’s tale will always come with the responsibility of trying to do them justice, and inevitably, by looking at other people’s lives, you will get to know more about yourself. I do feel very protective about her. You never get to know someone completely, and the play is through my own filter, but I feel that I have a better understanding of the woman behind the façade.’

Supported by the Arts Council ‘Edith, Elizabeth and I’, directed by Sian Webber, written and performed by Jules Craig, has been on a short tour. I do hope further performances around the country will give others the opportunity to be as captivated as I was.

Jules Craig’s website is www.edithwho.org.uk.




Upcoming poetry events – North Yorkshire

It feels like there is a lot of poetry in the air, what with commemorations: for World War One unearthing the verse of that time; for the 50th year since Edith Sitwell died; and for what would have been Dylan Thomas’s 100th birthday. Amongst it all there are plenty of reminders that poetry is not something academic and distant, but something which speaks from one heart to another and something which people turn to in troubled and troubling times.

There are many words and images which are being used to engage our 21st sensibilities with the reality of WW1. I’ve been very touched by some of the diary entries I’ve heard on TV and radio. However, there is nothing like a choice poem to prick at both heart and brain, not to mention raise the question, what would I have done?

I had always thought Edith Sitwell had only tackled WW2 in her poetry, until I was told about ‘The Dancers’ from her Clowns’ Houses collection. It starts:

The floors are slippery with blood:
The world gyrates too. God is good
That while His wind blows out the light
For those who hourly die for us –
We still can dance each night.

I am continually bemused that she is best known for ‘Façade’ when she wrote verse such as this.

I was also fascinated by the Radio 4 documentary about Dylan Thomas’s popularity in West and East Germany during the Cold War: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04mh75l Apparently, poetry was particularly popular as a means of protest in East Germany because it could hide much behind a metaphor (and the censors lacked imagination). Plus it was short, so did not arouse suspicions when the supply of paper and printing were state controlled. Made me wonder what I would put out there under such restricted conditions.

So what of poetry today? Well, certainly here in North Yorkshire, we are lucky to have a flourishing scene. At the end of November a new anthology will be published by http://www.valleypressuk.com/ called ‘A Pocketful of Windows – to Gaze, Reach or Crawl Through.’pocket full of windows

It will be launched at two exciting events. At 7.30pm on the 27th of November 2014, at North Bridlington Library (YO16 6YD), readings from the anthology will be followed by a performance of the ‘The Remarkable Mr Rutherford’ (Brid’s own unofficial poet laureate) by the duo ‘The Hull to Scarborough Line’.

On Friday, the 5th of December 2014, at 7.30pm, the launch will be at http://www.woodendcreative.co.uk/ and will be accompanied by an Open Mic (entry to the event, £2). So if you’ve got the urge to perform a song, a short piece of prose or a poem, book your space and come along. Poets are far better off in a crowd!


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.

Edith coming off the page

Today was our Edith Sitwell schools’ taster day, run in collaboration with the University of Hull, Scarborough campus outreach, Woodend Creative Industries Centre and Scarborough Library. We had 26 young people coming from three local schools. They were introduced to the history of Woodend and to aspects of Edith Sitwell’s life and poetry. They were treated to a performance of an extract of Façade. They learnt something of what it is to be a writer, to play with and then craft words, to search within and without for inspiration.

Some dived into it with great confidence and that was lovely to see. However, as usual for me, it was those who struggled that held my curiosity. Two lasses responded to all my suggestions and questions with, ‘I don’t know’. So in the end we created a embryonic rap with the repeated line of (yes, you’ve guessed it) ‘I don’t know’.

It was hard work and I am very grateful for the support of all involved. I am left with the even greater conviction that, far from being a dusty has-been, given the chance, Edith still leaps off the page. Well, at least, there are 26 young people in the Scarborough area who on hearing Edith’s name won’t look blank but should have something to say about her.

Scarborough Flare’s Bright

Scarborough Flare was magnificent and a true showcase of local literary and artistic talent. The best part, for me, was working with like-minded folks and experiencing the creativity flowing over.

My event ‘Taking Tea with Edith Sitwell’ was well attended and received. I even managed to enjoy it, despite my nerves. In the final part of it, with the invaluable help of Felix Hodcroft and Rosie Larner, we created a collaborative poem, which blew us all away. Read it here: http://www.scarboroughflare.co.uk/#!blogger-feed/cxz4/post/6428544556236913615

I also want to give special mention to the Hull2Scarborough Line’s ‘The Remarkable Mr Rutherford’. It not only introduced me (and probably most of the audience) to some very evocative and thought-provoking poetry, but also brought the actors Pauline Collins and John Alderton in amongst our midst. We all sat in the intimate space of the Sitwell Library at Woodend spellbound by the words and performance being woven around us.

Well done to everyone involved in Scarborough Flare, it just shows what can be done with a great deal of volunteer time, goodwill and pertinacity. I feel sorry for those who missed it!

The Edith Sitwell Legacy

‘Legacy’ is an ‘in’ word right now – the Olympic legacy, the Commonwealth Games legacy and so on. I hadn’t considered a legacy for this ‘year of Edith Sitwell’ but thanks to the Poetry Society it looks like they might be one. Not only have they put up an Edith Sitwell challenge on their Young Poets’ Network, http://www.youngpoetsnetwork.org.uk/2014/03/24/edith-sitwell-eccentricity-and-sounds-new-writing-challenge/, they are also talking about creating a lasting resource on Edith Sitwell for schools. Thus opening up a whole new generation to her poetry and writing.

Scarborough Flare, www.scarboroughflare.co.uk, is also reaching out to young people with their story chair project, encouraging budding storytellers as well as enrapturing children with stories. Check out their website for a fab programme for both readers and writers.

Writing Workshops in Scarborough

It is now three weeks and 24 hours before Scarborough Flare kicks off (www.scarboroughflare.co.uk) and a little bird tells me that tickets are going fast. My ‘Taking Tea with Edith Sitwell’ is almost sold out! Good old Edith, she can still pull in the crowds.

Don’t miss out. There are also some great writing workshops to encourage our natural storytelling imperatives and nurture our creativity.

Young Poets Challenge

Edith Sitwell – innovative writer, forgotten woman poet, fascinating individual – died fifty years ago this year. To celebrate her work, the Poetry Society has launched a poetry challenge for young people. Please promote through your networks: http://www.youngpoetsnetwork.org.uk/2014/03/24/edith-sitwell-eccentricity-and-sounds-new-writing-challenge/


My Writing Process – The blog tour

So I have taken the baton for this grand tour of writers’ blogs, thank you to Judith Marshall for asking me to take part and see her blog at http://judithlesleymarshall.com/

The idea is that we all answer the same questions, so here are my responses.

What am I working on?
I have three very different projects on the go. Firstly, there is an article on embodied creative writing within the therapeutic environment which I am collaborating on with a friend and colleague. This is destined for an academic market. Secondly, I am doing some writing around Edith Sitwell for an article, workshop and performance celebrating her life and works in the 50th year since she died. And thirdly, I am working on a novel series in the crime genre.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Focusing on my series of novels, I would say that I am riffing off what others are doing within the genre, namely interweaving social observation into a plot driven by a problem posed by a crime. I am following on the heels of Sayers, Cleeves, Rankin, Atkinson, Paretsky, Rendell, Walters… and oh so many others who have dragged the genre into the modern era. As ever my preoccupations are: relationships; mental health; and writing. In the first book a psychotherapist gets murdered, but don’t tell my therapist that.

Why do I write what I do?
I write because I am enraptured by the process of playing with words and ideas. I write because I have to, I feel compelled to. I write because I want to be in communion with others. I write because when I don’t I feel less myself. I write because doing so helps me feel fulfilled and useful.

How does my writing process work?
I read A LOT. All writers must read and must read widely. I write pretty much every day in a writing journal. Here I write very freely, whatever comes, I don’t worry about making sense or having any purpose. A lot of what comes out is how I am feeling, along with observations, ideas, quotes, lines of poetry I’ve discovered, scraps of things I’ve found and reflections. Writing in my journal means that I am always experimenting, practising, limbering up. The contents of my now numerous journals are a treasure trove of starting points for writing that I may decide to share.

I always have two or three projects on the go and I usually make a six month plan detailing week by week how I am going to achieve what I want to do. So, for instance, this week I know I am working on Edith Sitwell and to do that I need to spend so much time researching/reading and so much time writing and I put those blocks of time into my diary. Once the plan is there, I rarely allow anything to intrude on my writing time.

Within this stringent time framework, I will write freely/organically. For my novels, I have had a cast of characters who I have got to know along the way and a loose plot but I have not known ‘who dunnit’ before I started. That has come out in the writing. I have discovered that what’s great about a series is that I have my characters and I can continue to live with them.

That’s enough from me. I will now pass the baton onto my writerly friends Julie Fairweather and Sue Spencer.

Julie Fairweather is a creative writer who allows her writing in progress the freedom to find its own form, though she tends to favour the short story genre. Julie completed an honours degree in creative writing in 2012 and last year published a collection of her short stories ‘Picking at the Bones’, available in digital form from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Picking-at-Bones-Julie-Fairweather-ebook/   Read more from Julie at Spinning Stories from the Secret Self on http://juliefairweather.co.uk/ 

Sue Spencer trained as a nurse at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge in the early 80s. She worked as a District Nurse in London and Gateshead before becoming a Diabetes Specialist Nurse. Sue moved to her present job in 1996. In 2004 Sue met Julia Darling and her world has never been quite the same since. Poetry has become one of the most important guides in her life and Sue completed the MA Creative Writing in Poetry at Newcastle University in 2008.
Sue is determined to spread the word about the power of poetry whenever and wherever she can. She is currently developing a portfolio of workshops and activities that integrate her clinical, research and educational expertise with the creative arts in personal/ professional development and coaching. She is Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne. Read more at: http://the-grumponthehill.blogspot.co.uk/

First Event in the Edith Sitwell Festival, Scarborough

1st March 2014, Writing from the Heart, creative writing workshop.

Some people believe poetry is something light and fluffy.  But we know that much of the very best poetry engages with drama, tragedy, conflict and controversy. How can you create poetry or poetic prose that speaks of things important to you in a  powerful way and would work in performance? Join us for examples and exercises to help you towards a piece written from the heart. Work with us and fellow group members to create a tapestry of such pieces. Our starting point is Still Falls the Rain, a seminal poem by Scarborough-born writer Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), an innovative, and sometimes inspiring, poet who deserves rediscovery.

Part of the Stephen Joseph Outreach Festival. Contact: 01723 370541 https://www.sjt.uk.com/