Definition #319 Weird Poet

Edith Sitwell

Edith Sitwell

Sitwell said: “I am not an eccentric.

It’s just that I am more alive than most people.

I am an unpopular electric eel in a pool of catfish.”

Sitwell’s best-known work is Façade, a series of poems that she set to music — each poem was meant to be read in a specific rhythm. The composer William Walton wrote the music and conducted a live orchestra during the performance. All the audience could see was a curtain painted like a huge face, with a hole in the center for a mouth. Sitwell sat behind the hole, reciting her words through a megaphone. The first London performance of Façade went so badly that an old woman in the audience waited outside the curtain afterward to hit Sitwell with an umbrella; Noel Coward walked out; and Virginia Woolf didn’t understand the poetry. Woolf wrote: “So I judged yesterday in the Aeolian Hall, listening, in a dazed way, to Edith Sitwell vociferating through the megaphone. […] I should be describing Edith Sitwell’s poems, but I kept saying to myself ‘I don’t really understand … I don’t really admire.’” When Sitwell performed Façade in New York more than 20 years later, it was extremely popular.

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