Perdika Press, 2008  £4.95

I should say right away that I am perhaps far from being Mario Petrucci’s ideal reader. Google might allow me to play, but I am no classical scholar. My previous reading of Sappho has been far more fragmentary than her famously shredded back catalogue—a stanza here and there on the web.  So, I read these ‘Adaptations—Imitations—Extensions’ not as Sappho, just as poems.

And yet, it would be strange not to comment on Petrucci’s most obvious character as a translator. I might call it the Star Trek approach, visiting contemporary objects and values onto Sappho’s concerns and situations, so that each might illuminate the other. Here are some of Petrucci’s nouns: Statue of Liberty, Chariots of Fire (yes, the film), duvet, disco, drum kit, bling.  Even I can be confident that these are not direct translations. Sappho, Jim, but ...

Petrucci’s approach works for me; it works for my kind of reader, in that it makes for poetry that reads as ‘modern’ despite its provenance.  In fact, it reads as rather subtle, layered modern poetry, making me doubly sheepish as a reviewer.  There is an immediate surface shimmer, some grabbing images; but there is also a feeling of depth and intelligence, persuading me that there is considerably more to these poems than I have yet had time to unearth.

I wish I understood better how poems work this trick, the trick of promising to repay further reading. Try this for size:

Dust of stars, dusk-lit, return to focus
the insight scattered by brightness. Reinstate
the wrong, recover the right—restore memory as one
versed in lost property might return to the child
its mother.

Words seem to have been precisely chosen; sound and meaning seem to play off one another; the phrases are somehow simultaneously transparent and mysterious.

This is a pamphlet I am looking forward to rereading and using. It will be my companion as I continue my Sappho-googling for alternative versions and it will make me think about the way the best poetry is of its time without being merely contemporary.

Stephen Payne