With the weather being as it has, it was difficult to celebrate - indeed not to feel a little resentful of - midsummer. It is as if we'd not had the chance to experience Summer's kisses and it is already in decline.


I was fortunate enough to be asked to do a presentation at the Sitwell Society's AGM last night (http://sitwellsociety.com/). I was talking about some of Edith Sitwell's poetry and also introducing my own work Words in My Head.

Reading Edith's poems I was struck again by the question, why did I study TS Elliot at A Level and not Edith Sitwell? And I keep coming back to the answer, because she's a woman and she didn't marry Ted Hughes. In current times, yes, female poets are entering the canon. But go back a little way and you have to be Sylvia Plath to be remembered.

Edith packed auditoriums on her trip to the US in the 1950s, her 75th birthday filled the Royal Festival Hall, her prose work was optioned by Hollywood where she consorted with movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe. What contemporary poet - male or female - can say that?


I wonder sometimes why we write poetry, or rather, why we write it to share with an audience. I know why I write poetry for myself, I enjoy it, working with the words gives me pleasure. Crafting a poem can also help me clarify something or might remain as a reminder of a particular scene or event.

So I suppose I could use the same reasoning for then passing it onto an audience. Perhaps it will give them pleasure or remind them of something within their own lives. Is there, however, an underlying tone or message I want my words to smuggle in with them?

When I first began writing poetry I was struggling with depression and reading my work now I see that it was shrieking: THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. THIS IS HOW BLEAK IT IS. I remember there came a time when I thought quite consciously I could go on with my bleak pattern, or I could let threads of hope, joy and love weave in. They were not very strong yarns at that point, rather meagre, in fact, but by giving them a presence I do feel I was allowing them to grow more abundant.

'Sometimes if you act as if you were blessed, you will be blessed.'

Ursula K. Le Guin, the wave in the mind.

When I look out into the world right now, there's not much to brighten the gloom. It would be easy to rant and critique. However, perhaps as a poet my role is otherwise, to unearth the gleam and give it a shine. Just like when times are good, my job might be to say, wait a moment, there's something stinking here too? Perhaps as poets we always work counterwise, as a balance, until the weight slips the other way, as it almost inevitably will.
'When power leads a man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.'
JF Kennedy at the dedication of the Robert Frost library at Amherst

Now there's a politician who knows the worth of poetry, though I realise the words were probably written for him. However, makes me wonder how many anthologies and collections our present disreputable crew are in need of. Perhaps just a few lines from the redoubtable Edith Sitwell would do as an anthem for our times (though it was published in 1945!):

How we should pity the High Priests of the god of this world, the saints of Mammon,
The cult of gold! For see how these, too, ache with the cold
From the polar wastes of the heart. ...See all they have given
Their god! Are not their veins grown ivy-old,
And have they not eaten their own hearts and lives in their famine?
Extract 'A Song of the Cold'