Defragmenting Sappho by Kevin Cadwallender

It’s two weeks since Red Squirrel launched Kevin Cadwallender’s new book, Defragmenting Sappho so it’s more than time I reviewed it, especially since I had it read by the time I got home that night.

Kevin is known for his excellent performance poetry, very funny, very well-performed, but also thought-provoking and extremely intelligent. And though the launch was also a brilliant performance, with music and readings by fellow-poet Sophia Walker, no-one was really ready for the new departure this book is.

Essentially Kevin Cadwallender has reconstructed poems from the fragments which are all we have from the 7th century BC poet Sappho. He studied them intensely in the translations of Anne carson, deliberately restricting his vocabulary to what is known of hers, and producing sixty new composite poems.

The result is passionate, tender, lyrical. Sappho praises, teases, reproaches, remembers lost loves, entices new ones, confronts old age, infidelity and mortality

Someone will remember us, I say,
even in another time
when our bones are whiter than an egg (58).
Sometimes there is a lot to work with – as in the above example. Occasionally there is very little:
Sunset stoops over the hill
slowly like an old man
putting out fire.

(the italicised words are Sappho’s)

It is moving, astonishing, a little bit obsessive. It’s brilliant.

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