Earlier in the Summer I heard that I had the "commission", along with a small budget, to do an art installation for Coastival next February (www.coastival.com). Words in My Head (which was meant to be a working title but appears to be sticking) will be a celebration of the poetry of Edith Sitwell, it will be housed at Wood End, Scarborough, where she was born in 1887.

My interest in Edith Sitwell has been growing ever since she was nominated in a Local Heroes project I co-ordinated for the museums' services in 2003-2004. Up until that point, hers was a name which I vaguely connected with arrogance, aristocracy and eccentricity. Of course, she was much, much more complex than that and, at times, an innovative, a surprising, a fine writer.

I have become fascinated by her life story, her unhappy childhood, her move to London where she was forced to financially support herself despite her family's wealth, her relationships with various characters, including other writers and artists. And I am struck by her poetry, which she continued to write and develop throughout her days.

As part of the research for Words in My Head, I went to Renishaw, the Sitwell seat near Sheffield. I was excited, especially on seeing a pub called the Sitwell Arms, and I enjoyed my time ambling through the gardens, being given a tour of the house. However, I didn't feel particularly connected to Edith, nor do I think that I learned anything new about her. I feel more in step with her here in Scarborough, despite her dislike of the place and the fact that she rarely returned once she had the choice.

Perhaps it is my own attachment to the town that I am engaging with, rather than Edith's, yet I cannot help sensing the beat of the sea, the roar of the lion as she called it, coming through those starkly moving poems she wrote in the 1940s and 1950s.
I was listening to Open Book on Radio 4 on Sunday and a trio of authors talking about the nom de plumes they choose. There was a man who wrote under a female name and a woman who androgynised hers with initials (as JK Rowling did, claiming she was taken more seriously because her gender was not immediately identifiable).

There is a long tradition of woman writers having to take on male pseudonyms - the Brontes, George Elliot are the most frequently cited examples. However, surely we are in a different world now? Publishers claim men are less likely to read books authored by a woman, apparently the bias does not go the other way for female readers, except in the romance genre. I think I would feel manipulated if I found I had been reading something I discovered was by a clandestine man.

Both interviewees on the radio claimed the decisions about their name had been made to suit the "brand" they were wanting to publish in. Further evidence the literary world is not all about the writing, but rather about a complete product.


I had one of those sparky-sparkling moments when I discovered that I had written something startling even to me the supposed author. For some time now, I've been playing about with ideas around the connections between poetry-making and research. And last week I was trying to bring my thoughts together onto one page through a messy and disorganised - always the best kind - mind map.

I looked back at what I had put down and there it was:
Poetry in research as
-Presentation of findings.

A slotting in place of what I'd read, experienced and practised over the last several months. And at each stage, I feel I can connect my therapeutic-researcher to my poet through being able to explore both content and form. What I have found so far in my reading is that poetry is seen as important at one point or another of the research, but not as a thread running through it, and that little is made of the form and how it connects to the layers of meaning.

I am excited to think that what I have come up with may indeed be innovative. I feel like patenting it!
A Haiku for August

Still my fevered mind,
the waves swell enough for two,
the sky is yet vast.
Writing is a dangerous profession for some. A writer is being threatened with prison because of what he wrote about the Singapore death penalty. The author of The Bookseller of Kabul has been ordered to pay damages for her fictionalised depiction of a woman in her story. Both are standing by what they consider to be the truth in their writing and are defending their right to express what they feel they have to say.

The second case gave me particular pause for thought, as it is about a character in fiction. True, the writer herself claims her story is based on fact, and there seems to be the Bookseller's own literary ambitions which might be muddying the water, even so, to have to pay damages on a work of fiction? All writers draw on the people around us, should we, perhaps, be more circumspect about how we do this after this ruling?

Words have a power which terrifies authoritarian regimes and people who cannot bear, will not survive, criticism or contrary views. There are many writers we hear little of who have been detained, tortured, even killed or disappeared, because they have dared to make public their words (see Amnesty International's website: http://www.amnesty.org.uk).

It is a sobering thought for one as safely cossetted as me.