Monday, August 15, 2022

WITMonth Day 15 | If Not, Winter by Sappho (tr. Anne Carson) | Minireview

It seems strange, in retrospect, just how long it took me to read Sappho's Fragments. It seems stranger still, in retrospect, that I own an almost 400-paged edition of these fragments, which often comprise of a few words on an otherwise blank page (with the original Greek on the opposite side).

This is a difficult book to review, in part because it's poetry and I always struggle to review poetry, and in part because it's so very... minor, while also being massive. Sappho's poetry has meaning across many different contexts, from the literary to the musical to the cultural (specifically, queer-cultural). It's hard to read this should-be-small work without that extra understanding. It's harder still to review it.

I didn't linger over most of these poems/fragments. Here and there, I found a line that was revelatory, like fragment 50: "For the man who is beautiful is beautiful to see / but the good man will at once also beautiful be." It's a line that feels fresh and resonant, even though the language of it is obviously worked in order to achieve a particular rhythm in English. I'm totally fine with that. Most fragments, though, felt precisely like that - fragments that glided over the surface of my brain, with little to grasp. I'm not a scholar of classical poetry and I cannot properly gauge whatever impact three words scattered on a page might have. And once I don't have that, pretty much all that's left over is my emotional response to the poetry (because, as I've said many times, that is how I personally read poetry - through a deeply emotional, personalized lens; it may not be "correct", but it is what it is) and there can't really be all that much of one when... there's isn't really all that much to grasp.

And so most of this book... just sort of existed for me. I enjoyed the reading process and I'm delighted to have gotten a chance to finally read some of Sappho's works, but I was a bit disappointed in the edition (it felt pointlessly padded, sorry) and mostly felt like this was a technical exercise rather than a true, nuanced poetic reading. Maybe some day I'll be wise enough to gain more from the text. In the meantime, I can simply say: That was cool. Onto the next.

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