so… here is the book i have been carrying with me longer and that i have read in more than in any other over the past 12 months: anne carson’s if not, winter – fragments of sappho. if i have spent so much time with this book, why is it i never really posted about it here? afterall, this is where i pour my booklovin’ heart out!
to be honest, i just don’t know. i just don’t know what to say about this book, other than that it utterly fascinated me from the moment i took it off the shelf in the small second hand bookstore in downtown salt lake. i only knew of sappho at that time, i knew about her – second hand knowledge, rather than having read any of her poetry. i had, however, read carson before – thanks to a cool poetry teacher who introduced me to the autobiography of red, which just swept me off my feet, it is truly an amazing book. i will have to tell you more about that another time…
now, what is this book? what carson has done here is place the fragments and her own translations of them next to each other, on pages facing each other. what makes the whole thing even more interesting is how she keeps the missing bits, how she tries to recreate the visual experience of the fragmented texts.
some of the fragments are longer than others. some are complete sentences or at least phrases, others are missing bits in the middle or on the edges. carson has found a good way of marking these sorts of “holes” in the text with a simple system of brackets.
some fragments consist of just one or two words. for me, those were the most intriguing ones. like these: (the layout is me playing around)
do not move stones
gold anklebone cups
these made my fingers itch and my mind started putting together poems around those fragments. i ended up with a chapbook’s worth of poems all triggered by fragments from carson’s translation. i didn’t do this with the intent of recreating anything, rather, i was making something new out of something that was already there. creative recycling, i guess? in any case, i really enjoyed this!
but i didn’t just have fun… i learned one or two things as well. (which, really, to me is also thoroughly enjoyable, but that’s beside the point – or is it.) carson gives a good introduction to the background of sappho as well as the manuscript(s) she retranslates here. she also provides insightful notes to many fragments and words, and a “who’s who” – very helpful.
carson’s translation is very readable, and she treats the original text with much respect. she doesn’t go about assuming and claiming to recreate the original text. she lets the fragments breathe, makes available what is there – i doubt i would have read as much of sappho’s verse had i bought another translation. and i know i would not have looked at the original text, for the simple reason that the language is beyond me. (which touches on the next little project i have in mind, and why i chose not to pick it for my research topic for my ph.d. applications. i have been reading gilgamesh. in translation of course. can’t see myself learning to read cuneiform anytime soon… but more about that another time!)
if you are curious about sappho, even just a bit, this might be a good place to go. and the paperback has been out for a while, so you should be able to get it second hand too. (mind you, i am hanging on to my copy! not that anyone else would want it now, it’s been very patient and longsuffering, traveling many miles in my bag and letting me use the blank spaces.)
p.s. – i just saw that you can actually look at excerpts online, right here:
with links like this one:
thank you, bold type!