Sunday

Papyri (2007)


Cover design: Michael Steven

Papyri: Love poems & fragments from Sappho & elsewhere. ISBN 978-0-473-12397-0. Auckland: Soapbox Press, 2007. 24 pp. [signed edition of 70 copies].

Contents:

When you walked in …
Sappho to Anaktoria
Ode to Aphrodite
Atthis
Mnasidika
Fragments (1):
- I love magnificence …
- Dying is bad …
- The Moon’s set …
Fragments (2):
- This pretty baby is mine …
– Mum, I can’t thread …
- Last night you slept on the breast …
- We love to hear …
To a girl who doesn’t care for poetry
Juicy Root
Virgin
Sappho’s Epithalamion

Samples:

Papyri


Available:

Michael Steven
Soapbox Press
47 Springfield Rd
Western Springs
Auckland
soapboxpress@gmail.com

RRP: $NZ 15






Cover design: Bronwyn Lloyd

(November 23, 2007) Papyri: Love poems & fragments from Sappho & elsewhere. Auckland: Pania Press, 2007. 20 pp. [gift edition of 20 copies].

Contents:

When you walked in …
The Villa of the Papyri
Sappho to Anaktoria
Recipe for Making a Dadaist Poem
Ode to Aphrodite
Life among the Surrealists
Atthis
Mnasidika
Fragments:
* I love magnificence …
* Dying is bad …
* The Moon’s set …
* This pretty baby is mine …
* – Mum, I can’t thread …
* Last night you slept on the breast …
* We love to hear …
To a girl who doesn’t care for poetry
Juicy Root
Virgin
Sappho’s Epithalamion

Available:

Bronwyn Lloyd
Pania Press
2/5 Hastings Rd
Mairangi Bay
Auckland 0630
bmlloyd@xtra.co.nz

RRP: $NZ 45







Reviews & Comments:

  1. Hamilton, Scott. "Publication and Evaporation." Reading the Maps (13/10/07)

    A few of the usual suspects gathered at Ye Olde Boozer last Thursday night to celebrate the appearance of Jack Ross's chapbook Papyri: Love poems and fragments from Sappho and elsewhere. Papyri is the latest publication from Soapbox Press, an oufit founded earlier this year by Michael Steven ... Papyri is dedicated to Jack's lovely fiancee Bronwyn, and its poems are a noticeable departure from the dark fare of most of his earlier books:

    Some say the finest sight
    on this black earth is men on horses
    others foot-soldiers others
    fleets of ships
    I say
    it's the one you love

  2. Green, Paula. "Introduction." Best NZ Poems 2007:

    When the books are as lovingly made as ... Auckland’s Soapbox Press (see Jack Ross's Papyri), the possibilities for the published poem are enhanced.
    ...
    At one point in January the stack of best poems on my floor stood at 20 cms. I feel bad that so many of these gems remain in the shadows, so like Will in Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, I want to cut a hole in the sky. My aim, however, is to reveal a simultaneous cluster of best poems:
    ... the fragility and the love in Jack Ross’s ‘Fragments (2) ... the more restrained edginess in Thérèse Lloyd’s ‘Feeding the Rats' ...

  3. Jenner, Ted. brief 36 (2008) – The NZ Music Issue: 111-13:

    Translation can be a peculiar practice, especially when it's of the creative variety: poet Christopher Logue produced some of the finest late 20th century versions of the Iliad in English without even a nodding acquaintance with the Greek ... Likewise, a critically acclaimed translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses was written without any knowledge of Latin; and now Jack Ross has achieved a similar feat, a rather clever and snappy set of Sapphic fragments mediated, like the Ovid, via literal translations in French prose.


[Ted Jenner: Writers in Residence (2009)]

Complete Review:
[Reprinted by permission]

Ted Jenner, “Review of Jack Ross, Papyri: Love Poems & Fragments from Sappho & Elsewhere. Auckland: Soapbox Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-473-12397-0.” brief 36 (2008) – The NZ Music Issue: 111-13:

Translation can be a peculiar practice, especially when it's of the creative variety: poet Christopher Logue produced some of the finest late 20th century versions of the Iliad in English without even a nodding acquaintance with the Greek, and furthermore observed that based on the translations of the epic that he studied and used for his own purposes, from Chapman (1611) to Rieu (1950), an expert knowledge of Homeric Greek might even be an encumbrance. Likewise, a critically acclaimed translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses was written without any knowledge of Latin; and now Jack Ross has achieved a similar feat, a rather clever and snappy set of Sapphic fragments mediated, like the Ovid, via literal translations in French prose.

This Sappho is essentially a sheaf of love poems Jack has translated for his partner, Bronwyn Lloyd (the epigraph reads: 'When you walked in/I bearhugged you,/having banked up/the fires of love ...'). In a similar fashion, Catullus (well, it's a shrewd guess) translated one of Sappho's most famous poems, the phainetai moi ('He seems to me the equal of the gods . .') for his beloved Lesbia, a name he bestowed upon Clodia Metelli in honour of the fabled beauty of the women of Lesbos.

There are far-reaching consequences in the fact that these translations are not an attempt to represent Sappho and her 'bittersweet' yearnings as accurately as possible but rather aim to provide a partner, and thereby on publication, a public with some venerable love songs. Situations and similes are updated; hauntingly distant place-names are firmly localized in the familiar. So Sardis, the capital of the rich and powerful Lydians, becomes Golden Bay with its ‘suntanned Nelson girls'; Anaktoria, an absent beloved, is preferred to 'Mayday parades of tanks/goose-stepping infantry', not 'Lydian chariots and armed infantry'. There are gems amongst these updates. Take the love-sick seamstress, for example, who replaces Sappho's weaver singing a lament at her loom:

– Mum, I can't thread
the sewing machine today
I’m mad about
a boy …
– Again?

You won't find Mum's witty 'Again?' in Sappho's text; it is of course Jack’s own supplement, a means of breathing a little more life into this two-line remnant of an ancient traditional song.

Modernizing metaphor is a familiar strategy which creative translators adopt to give an ancient text some contemporary relevance. In his versions of the Iliad, Logue's modern references range from hairpins to Cape Kennedy, whereas Pound in Homage to Sextus Propertius limited himself to a frigidaire. But a resourceful poet can do more than this with fragments from ancient Greek if he/she wants to, in Pound's famous slogan, 'make it new’. You might for instance experiment with the 'Ode to Aphrodite' by turning it, with Tristan Tzara's 1919 recipe, into a Dadaist poem: 'carefully cut out each of the words ... and put them all in a bag. Shake gently. Next take out cutting one after the other. . .' (the reader can figure out the rest). Or you might assemble from disparate sources a collection of Sappho's famous comparisons ('whiter than milk', 'smoother than water' etc. etc.), add 'swifter than porsche' for good measure, entitle the poem 'Virgin' after a characteristic persona in the lady's epithalamia, and end with a suitable caution, 'keep away from trash', this being your own transformation of the ancient proverbial rubric, 'don't move gravel' (or 'Don't prod the/beach rubble' in Mary Barnard's translation, an image to tickle the fancy of a New Zealand reader if ever there was one!). I must admit that I find Jack's procedure here, for constructing a new poem out of one-line fragments, more creative than many so-called original poems which would ask us to contemplate the brevity of life.

Another strength of this little book is its complete lack of deference to illustrious 20th century translators and adaptors of Our Lady of Lesbos. Guy Davenport in Archilochus Sappho Alkman (1983) incorporated Pound's tiny poem/squib 'Papyrus’ ('Spring .... /Too long ..../Gongula ... .') in his own translation of fr.95 with the excuse that 'the misreading, if misreading it is, is by this time too resonant to change'. There is no genuflection to Uncle Ez. in Jack's opusculum. The very cover (designed by poet Michael Steven) seems to signal this vein of sassy irreverence (no kowtowing to Classical scholarship in here, mate): the word PAPYRI looks as if it has been stenciled on a creamy, off-white background by someone wielding a lipstick, the bright red colour of which is fading already in two or three letters (in sympathy with the word itself? or with the contents to follow?).

Where Jack falters is in his occasional omissions and his uncharacteristic refusal to supplement or transform. This, for instance, is just a mite too bald and the 'ditto' a little too flippant; it reads like a cellphone text:

The Moon’s set
ditto the Pleiades
it 's midnight
I’m alone

What he has omitted is the half-line 'hour passes hour' which endows the following (last) line with such pathos. As Pound said of a Chinese poem – The Jewel Stair’s Grievance – quite as understated as this: ‘The poem is especially prized because she utters no direct reproach.' Without the expression of tedium, the girl's (or Sappho's) loneliness loses more than pathos; it loses coherence to the extent that the lines might almost be an invitation to an illicit lover ('It's dark and quiet. Come now. I'm alone'). My main complaint, however, concerns the many fragments that have not found a place in Jack's book, but this complaint could be regarded as hypercritical when the sins of commission more often outweigh the sins of omission these days.


[Ted Jenner: Sappho Triptych (2007)]




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