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This review is taken from PN Review 174, Volume 33 Number 4, March - April 2007.

A MESMERISING VOICE EDITH SITWELL, Collected Poems (Duckworth Overlook)

Poetryarchive.org has a marvellous recording of Sitwell reading her 1940 poem, 'Still Falls the Rain'. Her voice is mesmerising, its beat relentless like the Blitz bombing of London that inspired the poem:

Still falls the Rain -
Dark as the world of man, black as our loss -
Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails
Upon the Cross.

One critic, hearing her perform, described Sitwell's voice as 'an orchestra in itself'. Such magisterial confidence is not easily secured by female poets. Her best-known work, which includes this and several other late poems capturing the mood of grim stoicism that characterised England in the 1940s, might seem to justify the view that - at their most successful - women poets transcend their gender. But the republication of her Collected Poems (first published in 1930) reveals a very different poet, one preoccupied by her major theme, love.

Even feminist critics have been slow to read Sitwell. Hungry for testimonials - poems dealing directly with female experience - her brand of theatrical, satirical, formally experimental, symbolic poetry was out of kilter and rarely discussed. But the appearance of two excellent studies - Laura Severin's Poetry off the Page: Twentieth Century British Women in Performance (Ashgate, 2004) and Deryn Rees-Jones' Consorting with Angels (Bloodaxe, 2005) - suggests that Sitwell may, at last, be accorded the attention of a new generation of readers. ...


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