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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


Pamela Beatrice


Reflections on Words and Stones

In creating a poem influenced by a Sappho fragment, the challenge is the vastness of the possibilities, all of which hang upon a thread. With limitless possibilities, it is harder to choose. So diving into the unknown is part of the process.

I did not have a strong “I have to pick this one” reaction to any of the fragments. “Do not move stones” (Carson 145) did not seem more motivating than “you burn me” (Carson 38) or “I conversed with you in a dream Kyprogeneia” (Carson 134)1. But I did pick “do not move stones” so it must have had a small edge over the others, perhaps for reasons I don’t fully understand or perhaps because of the inherent question on why one would say these words. And what can you extract from these few words exactly?

The movement of stones is primarily an activity by man done to fight, survive, build, control, or sometimes to honor. (Admittedly earthquakes can move stones, rivers can erode stones to sand, and boulders can crack and fall, but the timeline of nature is generally not commensurate with the human timeline and I gave up on this thread early on.) The Stone Age, which lasted over three million years, is called that for a reason. For humans, farmer’s remove stones from their planting fields to prepare to sow a crop. People erect stone fences to define property lines as well as demarcate specific land uses. Stones are used to pave roads and to make tools. Stones were used to build houses, temples, castles. Stones can be carved, smoothed, cut, or polished. Stones are used to mark graves. And configurations of stones such as Stonehenge had religious significance.

The human movement of stone is a hard task, so the underlying purpose is usually necessary or done by force. As I contemplated the many uses of stone, it was the building efforts to show power and the destruction through war (also to show power) that seemed the most basic. This reflection was reinforced by my visits to numerous archeological and historical sites over the years.

I also thought of stones as a building block, possibly with similarities to words. At one point early on I wondered if the poem could be a comparison of words to stones, with their interlace forming something more significant than the components. People have carved words in stone for millennia, religious laws and grave stele being examples, and often the stone medium lends gravitas to the words.

In the end, the poem incorporates three examples of the use of stone, a highly edited selection of the potential reasons to move stones, but ones that reflect upon aspects of power and rule. The opening and closing stanzas reflect upon the words themselves, their structure and what can be inferred from them. The narrator comes to a conclusion, and whether reasonable or not, it attempts to be thoughtful on how she arrived at it.

Lastly, since stones are often moved to build a structure, I wanted some structure in the stanzas, with the three middle stanzas bookended in a similar way. There was no particular reason to have five stanzas, each with five lines, but it was meant to hint at the consistent interlocking and patterns needed when working with either words or stones.

Works Cited:

Carson, Anne. If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009.

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1 All the poems mentioned here come from Anne Carson’s volume entitled If, Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho containing Sappho’s fragments in Greek and in English.