Cyprus-born, in dream we two were talking.*Welcome to the inaugural issue of Lavender Review. The theme of this issue is anything related to Sapphic: By Lesbians. About Lesbians. About Sappho. In Sapphics.
This is a controversial theme from all angles. On the one hand, I sometimes sense that lesbians and feminists feel that “writing poems in form is like sleeping with the patriarchy.” (Thanks to Marilyn L. Taylor for that marvelous phrase.) On the other hand, mainstream literary culture sometimes seems dubious about whether both lesbians and formalists are capable of writing great poems.
Sappho’s poems dissolve all controversies. Her poems are indisputably great. She invented the form that we call Sapphics. And her love for women was likely as common and accepted by her culture as that of Plato’s love for men. (“Surely the attitude of Maximus of Tyre is reasonable when he suggests that her group was similar to the group that surrounded Socrates. No perceptive reader can read Plato's accounts of the Socratic milieu without being aware of the erotic atmosphere that is often evident, although to accuse Socrates of hedonism would be ridiculous.” POETRY ) In short, Sappho, in our terminology, was a lesbian formalist who wrote great poems.
Someone, I tell you,You came very close to being completely obliterated by those who hated you, Sappho. But “No one will forget you again,” Elizabeth Oakes’ poem, “To Sappho,” reassures us in this issue. Many poets have written poems inspired by the fragments (H.D.); many poets have written Sapphics (Poetry Society); and Swinburne’s poem, “Sapphics,” attempts “to create the effect of the ancient Aeolian metre in a daring and brilliant stanza.” (1911 Encyclopedia)
will remember us.
Poets fight an uphill battle trying to be heard; lesbian poets fight doubly hard trying to be heard in our heterocentric culture. So it’s a double pleasure when male poets reach out to lesbians, as R. Nemo Hill does in “The Girls Are In The Trees,” and as John Whitworth does in his astute triolet, “The Poets at Drumcliff.” Like magic, Nemo’s poem seemed to attract poems about trees. Please let’s have more poems from Freda Karpf, like the one in which “i was moving up the tree.” As I collected the poems for this issue, trees, apples, bees, moon, streets, and wreckage became the leitmotifs:
Freda Karpf’s “cool moon” and “crazy drunk bees”; Eleanor Lerman’s “wrecked moon”; Minnie Bruce Pratt’s “The Moon, Reading” and “tree we climbed”; Ann Tweedy’s “Inside the Wreckage”; Judy Grahn’s “sky trees” and “my heart / is an apple tree”; Mary Kathryn Arnold’s “danger across the street”; Jan Steckel’s “Castro Street”; Eileen Myles’ “homeless are wandering the streets”; Ali Liebegott’s “steaming in the street”; Janet Kenny’s “traffic clanking”; Joan Annsfire’s wreckage in every note of “Distant Music”; and Suzanne Gardinier’s “tower fragments.”
These poems come from poets in the U.S., Canada, England, Wales, Australia, and Greece. Special thanks to Ann Drysdale, for contributing a custom-written poem for this issue, a spectacular poem in Sapphics after Baudelaire, and another heartwarming reach across the divide between straight and lesbian. For tastes and scents of lust forgotten, lost, and remembered, sample the poems from Joy Howard and Barbara A. Taylor.
Rachel Hadas contributed two visionary poems in Sapphics: a gorgeous ekphrastic of Botticelli, and “Pomology,” which develops this Sappho fragment:
Like a sweet apple reddening on the highAlso in this issue are three poems from A.E. Stallings, who, like “Hesperos of all stars is the most beautiful.” Willis Barnstone graciously contributed his translation, “Return, Gongyla,” which spells out, for all those who seek to suppress Sappho’s lesbianism, Sappho’s passion for Gongyla, “whom of all women / I most desire.” Barnstone’s strikingly strong and spare drawing of Sappho, from the cover of his Ancient Greek Lyrics (Indiana U, 2009), is based on the Sappho on a Roman sculpture found at Ephesos.
tip of the topmost branch and forgotten
by the apple pickers, not missed but beyond their
Collecting these poems and images gave me a beautiful long sweet spell of dreaming. Many thanks to the contributors. And many thanks to you, Sappho, for giving inspiration to poets, courage to lesbians, and to me, the feeling that by writing poems in the form you created, I can almost touch you.
Mary Meriam, Editor
*All translations of Sappho in this editorial are courtesy of Willis Barnstone.