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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


Ciara Barrick

a reading in three movements

“Life has been your art—
you have set yourself to music, your days are your sonnets.”

Natalie Clifford Barney to Eva Palmer Sikelianos

Three Movements:
Early Summer
Late Summer

Four Dances:
The Helix Dance
The Dance of the Sea
The Dance of the Past
The Dance of Death


The dialogue of this text is primarily comprised from Sapphic Fragments as translated by Anne Carson. This is true save the concluding line, which is a quotation from an Eva Palmer Sikelianos’s letter written to Natalie Clifford Barney during the late years of their lives.

This text was inspired by Max Richter’s reimagining of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and the Summer trilogy is suggested listening while the reader imagines this performance. Should this performance ever be lifted from the page, an orchestra would be commissioned to perform the original Vivaldi score to avoid copyright infringement. The suggestion for using Max Richter’s version for listening is that like this project, Max Richter has recomposed the original, as I have sought to do with the Sapphic Fragments.

Sappho, Fragment 31

He seems to me equal to gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking

and lovely laughing – oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me

no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

And cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am and dead – or almost
I seem to me.

But all is to be dared, because even a person of poverty

φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν
ἔμμεν᾿ ὤνηρ, ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι
ἰσδάνει καὶ πλάσιον ἆδυ φωνεί-
σας ὐπακούει

καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν, τό μ᾿ ἦ μὰν
καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν·
ὠς γὰρ ἔς σ᾿ ἴδω βρόχε᾿, ὤς με φώναι-
σ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἒν ἔτ᾿ εἴκει,

ἀλλὰ κὰμ μὲν γλῶσσά <μ᾿> ἔαγε, λέπτον
δ᾿ αὔτικα χρῷ πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμηκεν,
ὀππάτεσσι δ᾿ οὐδ᾿ ἒν ὄρημμ᾿, ἐπιρρόμ-
βεισι δ᾿ ἄκουαι,

κὰδ δέ μ᾿ ἴδρως κακχέεται, τρόμος δὲ
παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας
ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ᾿ ὀλίγω ᾿πιδεύης
φαίνομ᾿ ἔμ᾿ αὔτ[ᾳ.

Part One: Early Summer
Track: Summer 1

Two women stand center stage, the Lover and the Beloved. An age difference is discernible between them, in middle and late age, a single spotlight upon them. Their bodies face one another, although the gaze of the senior woman (Lover) looks up and away while the junior (Beloved) stares directly at her partner. The asymmetry between them is present in this initial positioning. In the silence of the performance space, the younger turns her gaze from the older to see what she is staring at.

[00:00-01:20] With the introduction of music, the Helix Dance begins: the Lover swings her arms and begins posing in ways reminiscent of classical Greek figure paintings. The beloved, with the ambition to learn the poses, tries to mirror the action although always with slight variations; she is still learning. We understand this relationship to be didactic, but the gazing is suggestive of connection, longing, and romance. They move in helix-like circles around the space, in widening peregrinations. More of the stage becomes illuminated as they occupy positions at both the zenith and nadir of an imagined circle. There is some lightness here in the motions, heavenly, ethereal. The dance becomes repetitive and we see the beloved relying less on the lover, focusing on the movements. The lover strays further and sits in a corner, alone, looking on.

A flurry of small boys in tunics approach from the side of the stage in a line, spaced several feet apart, falling in line behind the Beloved, mirroring her poses. They are the boy-chorus.

The Beloved notices that the Lover has wandered off, but is focused on her dance and after looking up once, does not look up again. She calls: “Stay, this can last all night long. See, right here, and now again.”

The Beloved continues the dance.

Beloved, without looking at the lover, laughingly calls: “Come to me now. Release me from this hard care.”

The Beloved continues, happily: “For it is true, from every care you could release me.”

The Beloved turns to the boy-chorus: “Look at her lovely step and the motion of light on her face. Look at the smile in her deathless face.”

The Beloved looks up to see where the Lover has wandered off to.

[01:20] The Stranger

The Beloved sees that a stranger has seated himself beside the Lover. He is strong, appears God-like, handsome and seductive.

We watch as the Beloved tries to make sense of the scene before her. Her anxiety is reflected in the speed of the dance, which has quickened. She begins articulating her questions to the chorus:

We see the Beloved pacing the stage.

[01:51-02:39] Introduction of Jealousy

“Who is he? Who is this man? This god? Is this what she was looking at? Far and away? Or looking for?... Where has he come from? What is she saying? Why is he here?”

The Lover laughs. The man’s positioning, originally at odds with the Lover’s, slowly begins to mirror her, and we see the echoes of the earlier instruction occurring. It speaks to the magnetism of the Lover.

“What did he whisper? Is her hand beside his? A man’s tongue always tells tales.”

Admonishes the boy-chorus: “Go, so that she and I may face our doom. For if she flees, I will soon pursue.”

[2:39-4:09] The Dance of the Sea

The boy-chorus and the Beloved begin a dance filled with jealousy, longing, passion, and tension. The boy-chorus restrains her. Pushing and pulling her. Additional taller boys emerge on stage from the four entrance corners. They become a sea—four rows, four columns, sixteen boys of varying heights imitating the crests of waves, with the Beloved caught among them. Now twenty boys, now twenty-four, until the sea of the boy-chorus fills the stage. She twists, she sinks below, she emerges, she flails, she languishes, she is lifted upon their shoulders. When the music cuts out, the boys fall away and slide off stage.


“I only wish to be the violets in her lap”

Lights out.

Track: Summer 2

[00:00-01:06] The panic has subsided. She is alone on the stage. The lover is catching her breath, what seems the aftermath of a near drowning, and slowly coming out of the jealousy-induced spiral. Ethereal music recovers us wearied audience members. The lighting on the couple fades. With opening violins strokes, a ghost-like figure emerges on the stage. The apparition tries to engage the Beloved in a dance of mirroring, reminding us of the Helix Dance. The Beloved senses a connection with the apparition but restrains herself as she searches for a vision of the couple in the far corner of the stage. The apparition blocks this view, again enticing the Beloved to dance. We understand the apparition to symbolize the love shared between the Lover and Beloved of an earlier time. The apparition touches her, brushes her hair behind her ear, continued attempts to be intimate, trying to make the living participate in the dream.

[01:06-close] Dance of The Past

The Beloved slowly engages in the dance with hesitation and her eyes continue searching for the couple. The couple now completely faded from view, the still somewhat panicked-eyes of the lover looking in corners for her beloved, although dancing with the memory of that beloved. The Beloved becomes more and more entangled in the dance. The Beloved finally commits to the memory. We see the figure of the Lover laughing and the Beloved lightening. The Beloved tries to touch the apparition, but we see it slip away, out of reach, reminding the Beloved that this is just a memory.

[1:48] “You came and I was crazy for you and you cooled my mind that burned with longing and you…you would let loose your longing. Oh, the beautiful times we had. In our youth, we did these things. Many beautiful things. Someone will remember us, even in another time.

We see resonances of The Helix Dance here. There is mirroring, a lightness, a joy and a sadness. Nostalgia dominates the scene. It is intimate, vulnerable, and tender.

[03-30-03:59] The Beloved breaks away, and catches a glance of the slowly reilluminated couple. She is slowly being drawn back into the present moment.

“But my thoughts are unchanging. I am not someone who likes to wound, but now this stain… I have been a strong lover, bitter. I know this, my darling one.”

Late summer:
Track: Summer 3

[00:00-02:50] The Dance of Death

On the stage, the boy-chorus reemerge marching in a skip from the corners. They are dancing in ways to divorce the Beloved from the memory and to wake her. The apparition is rushed off from the stage. The boys swarm the young woman, at times clearing the view so that the Beloved is clearly in plain sight, at others fully lost in the swarm. There is something bacchic here. The Beloved becomes enrapt in her jealousy again. It is very physical. The audience senses that the only release from this all engrossing lust is death. The Lover and male companion are now fully visible.

The Lover looks over at the Beloved. This is the first time we’ve seen the Lover acknowledge the Beloved since she left her. This ignites desire, joyfulness, and greater jealousy. The music expresses both this cheerfulness and excitement of the acknowledgement as well as the danger elements, the temptation. Is the Lover teasing the Beloved by flirting with this God? If so, it is too late. The Beloved and the boy-chorus are too far in their rage.


“You, my love, I want to suffer, I am in myself aware of this. How you burn me. And I…the fool I am…I treat well the ones who most of all harm me, for as long as they want. Release me…exhale me from this longing and sweat, not just longing, but desire all at once. I long and seek after what is said to be sinful. And now, all night long, I will be aware of this real evil doing while I on a soft pillow will lay down my limbs in resignation. Oh, how badly things have turned out for us. I simply want to be dead.”


The beloved collapses to the stage floor. We believe she is on the brink of death. The heartache has destroyed her. The Lover and God separate. The Lover approaches the Beloved, confusion overcomes her. The sweetness of the Lover, the attentiveness, signal that there has been a grave misunderstanding. It becomes clear that this was all an invention in the Beloved’s mind. Jealousy birthed a false betrayal. The Lover’s presence slowly begins to revitalize the Beloved. Looking into each other’s eyes, they both weep. The survival of the Beloved seeks to trouble narratives of Sapphic death. The Beloved attempts to speak, but the Lover silences her:

“Shh…not now. But soon I would like to sit with you quietly, —and perhaps talk a little. I am glad you are alive.”

                © Poeticanet