Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rainy day sapphics

Sapphics are one of the few classical forms that goes fairly naturally into English. One of the most delightful examples is this poem I found in an issue of The Formalist when I was in college. I liked it so much that I hand-copied it into my notebook.

by Erin Sweeten

Sappho eats, but only tomatoes, pulled from
Grecian urns she's filled to the brim with water
overnight to capture the deep old chill of
predawn's arrival.

Sappho sleeps, but only on mossy branches
autumn wind has broken from Mount Parnassus'
olive trees, old, shaggy and groaning under
goddesses gleaming.

Sappho bathes, but only by sloshing water
over heated stones in a roofless room where
stars and gods of planets enjoy the view, her
body undaunted.

Sappho walks, but only if lateness coaxes
owls and cats to show their enlightened eyes in
shadows laid aground by her hissing lamp up-
raised to the wildness.

Sappho lives, but only at certain moments;
clouds become her curly, untidy hair re-
leased to wind; some branches, her elbows crooked for
rocking the muses.

* * *

Also discovered in my notebook, from high school (maybe freshman year college?):

Sun rises from east hills like sleeping lions, stark sandy folds, bronze oaks in ravines, hot sky. Moon sets on west hills, green, tangled, dionysian, full of creatures, spillways of mist, apocalypse of fog.

...They show a rough straw-golden pelt....dry gilt stubble
And the oaks so exquisitely crookt

* * *

Have recently ordered several poetry books by Nada Gordon, Kay Ryan, Monica Youn, Rachel Wetzsteon. Folly is rather like those creatures of Hieronymus Bosch playing Dance Dance Revolution at Versailles.


dylan said...


I've never been able to do sapphics.

Ah, well, there's a first time for everything ...

How I wish for the skill to write in Sapphics!
Not quite sure when the dactyl should have happened.
Try some lines at five in the morning during
First cup of coffee.

Weather mild for March this Sunday in Boston.
All the old adulterate snow is melting!
Please feel free to howl at these dimwit verses
Spoiling your combox!


I'm reading Massachusetts poet January Gill O'Neil (b. 1969). She's not exactly a formalist, and many of her poems are rather racy; but she does have a beautiful villanelle called "Tangerines" -- about kissing her baby daughter's feet. She also has a somewhat eye-opening poem called "Sex and Pizza." I hope to hear her read on Friday night!

ali said...

These are beautiful. Found your blog purely by accident, but I'm glad to be here! I think it's especially interesting to look through notebooks like you did and find these little gems, not so much for the finding of them, but for the trail they leave, like bread crumbs, into my past. Wow, holy long sentence there, but hopefully you get what I mean!

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