Anne Sexton, 1974. Photo: Arthur Furst

Loughborough English researcher curates exhibition on poetry and fashion for the National Poetry Library

Poets in Vogue is an exciting new exhibition for the National Poetry Library, scheduled to open at the Southbank Centre during London Fashion Week (17 February 2023).

It aims to bring together the fashion worlds and poetic work of seven twentieth-century women poets. The series of displays includes six original installations, plus an iconic tartan skirt owned and worn by Sylvia Plath.

The exhibition is co-curated by Dr Sarah Parker from Loughborough University and Dr Sophie Oliver from the University of Liverpool, as well as being funded by the two institutions. The installations are created in collaboration with expert costume-maker Gesa Werner.

The process began in 2018, when Sarah and Sophie began researching twentieth-century women poets in the archives of the National Poetry Library, exploring newspaper clipping files, posters and LPs as well as books, in order to identify poets who have a particularly interesting relationship to fashion. They then worked with Gesa to conceive the striking installations that bring these poets to life.

Sarah comments on the experience: “As a literature scholar, I've long been interested in how poets appear and how they develop a distinctive public image to promote their work, including their interactions with fashion, clothing, and photographic portraiture. These issues are particularly thorny for women poets, who have so often been judged in terms of their appearance, and their work read accordingly.”

To think through these issues, the event showcases a reconstruction of Anne Sexton’s red ‘reading dress’, creative interpretations of Audre Lorde’s, Edith Sitwell’s and Stevie Smith’s signature looks, a fabric-adaptation of a Gwendolyn Brooks poem, and the clothes-performances of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.

Via visually thrilling installations that evoke the seven poets’ distinct style and presence, the exhibition also rethinks assumptions about the superficiality of fashion, providing new angles and viewpoints on the close connections between language and clothing, while highlighting poetry as an embodied practice that involves live performance.

Find out more about the exhibition on the Southbank Centre website.