Print article

Responses to American Poetry

The aim of this online space is to host the research work of university students or young scholars as this emerges from larger projects focusing on the American poetry scene. The objective of this initiative is to bring this kind of research activity to the attention of the general public in an attempt to further promote the exchange of ideas with regard to the process of reading, understanding and appreciating poetry writing.


Tatiani Rapatzikou 
(Associate Professor, School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece; Advisor and initiative co-ordinator


Robert Mazur


A Digital Space for H.D. and Sappho: Making Nuance Accessible

It is difficult to ignore a certain unfortunate trend among poets that, throughout literary history, they and their work have had a tendency to become severed from the attention of the general public. There was a time when any passer-by could muster a line or two of Sappho at the appropriate moment. Now I would be hard-pressed, at least in my small town, to find an individual who even recognizes the name. Worse, of those who still can recite Sappho, a not insignificant number have convinced themselves that this is a sign of inferiority in the public, the “common people.” Well, no one will deny that such a skill would enhance one’s life in some way or another. But it seems to me that the problem lies not in the public, but in the methods by which poetry has been delivered to them. There is not a doubt in my mind that the vast majority of people are hungry for poetic fruit; if only someone would demonstrate how to peel back the many layers to reveal the richness inside.

Herein lies the great dilemma in presenting poetry: although it is worthwhile, it is nuanced and not always easy to penetrate. Moreover, when poets begin interacting with each other and develop a literary tradition, the study of poetry begins to resemble the chaos of an entropic system – impossibly complex, always growing more and more inaccessible. If a student is exposed to this sort of subject without being primed, while being told that it is a “high art” practiced by a select few of great genius, it is no wonder that so many fail to become interested in poetry, let alone find joy in writing their own. And so the question is how to present students all the complexity of great poetry without intimidating them so that they might embrace the art enthusiastically and contribute their own nuance to the tradition.

These are the thoughts that held my mind when I entered into the Sappho workshop and began approaching the work of the modernist poet H.D. The modernists, it seems to me, have a certain reputation for producing highly sophisticated if not at times inaccessible works. Perhaps this is fair to a certain extent, but I believe that the best of these artists have much to offer – it is only that one must be primed to interpret their art with confidence. H.D. mused in her “Notes on Thought and Vision” that the last oracle at Delphi must have been given when “the Hellenic mind had entirely lost the secret of dots and dashes” and “there was no one left to receive this message” (27). If I am right in saying that the entropy of poetry has inhibited students from interacting with these signals, then what better service could I offer as an aspiring poet and educator than helping them rediscover these dots and dashes, and become receivers of H.D. and Sappho?

And so I decided to create a digital space through which anyone can interact with these two poet’s work. In order to make the space as interactive as possible, I opted to use a popular blog site, Tumblr, as the format. Since it is representative of both Hilda and Sappho, I chose H.D.’s poetic-prose essay “The Wise Sappho” as a focus for the project. Upon entering the blog, a visitor is met with the text of this essay, which describes Sappho through images built by referencing her fragments in the style of a panegyric. All throughout this text, each reference to Sappho has been hyperlinked to the appropriate Sapphic fragment, with both the original Greek and English translation, as well as some helpful commentary. Visitors are welcomed to comment with their impressions and interpretations and to post creative works based on these fragments. As an initial example for visitors, I have included my own creative essay which imitates H.D.’s use of fragments to explore the translation of Sappho. The entire scheme may be visualized as a tree: “The Wise Sappho” serves as the trunk; the fragments of Sappho are the branches; translation and interpretive commentary serve as twigs; the creative and interpretive comments made by users are the final fruit.

By setting up this space, I have intended to encourage the introduction of both the ancient and modern styles of poetry to the uninitiated and to generate interest in these poets. In seeing how the complex images in “The Wise Sappho” may be broken down, how they were derived from the fragments, and how the fragments themselves may be understood in translation, I hope that visitors will witness a reversal of the poetic entropy which is culminated in “The Wise Sappho” and come to appreciate the generative aspect of poetry that H.D. exemplifies. In sum, the purpose of this digital space is to decode the dots and dashes transmitted by H.D. and Sappho so that others can receive and recode it into something meaningful to them. Because what else is poetry for, than to transmit meaning?


H.D. Notes on Thought and Vision and The Wise Sappho. City Lights, 1982.

                © Poeticanet