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This report is taken from PN Review 267, Volume 49 Number 1, September - October 2022.

On Sappho: Reading Lyric Fragments Kyoka Hadano
This piece was first published in The Isis, a publication at the University of Oxford.

We are strangely drawn to bits and pieces. The blunted shimmer of sea-glass, newspaper clippings, crumbling broken hazelnuts atop a cake. But what if we were thinking about fragmentary language? Words ending midsentence

        ] random indentation
grammar eluded

dissolve our expectations of lexical coherence. Teased out of the cohesion of sense and sentence, we find ourselves riddled with interruptions, lacunae, punctured openings, and unhemmed endings.

Sappho’s poetry is one of fragmentation. Intentional or not, her writings have remained with us in bits and pieces, preserved as citations in the works of other ancient authors or inscribed on strips of frayed papyri. Of the nine books of lyric poetry she is said to have composed, only one poem has reached us in its complete state. In the rare case that papyri do survive without significant damage, they still make for problematic reading: text is written upon them in columns, without word division, punctuation, or lineation. The very act of reading – even in this primary editorial phase – is one of piecing together the gaps.

This broken form chimes well with Sappho’s prevailing poetic theme of unrequited desire. The lover always yearns for what they do not have, and Sappho’s lyrical ‘I’ is no exception, for whom love unreciprocated is a condition predicated on absence. Having recently thumbed through the pages of the writer and classicist Anne Carson’s essay collection Eros the Bittersweet, I recall ...

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