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This review is taken from PN Review 151, Volume 29 Number 5, May - June 2003.

ANATOMY IN RED ANNE CARSON, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (Knopf) US$27.50.

In the introduction to her `Short Talks' (Glass and God, Cape) Anne Carson writes:

Early one morning words were missing. Before that, words were not. Facts were, faces were. In a good story, Aristotle tells us, everything that happens is pushed by something else.

With this dictum in mind, how to produce in 2002 the next translation of Sappho in a tradition that started as early, possibly, as 630 BC? How to go back to the original force and attempt to release some of the first energy, pushing away as little as possible from the primary source? The translator's mandate is to come as close as one can to the prime mover (in this case, the pieces left by the `tenth muse from Mytilene') - an impossible task, yet translators from Willis Barnstone to Guy Davenport to Richmond Lattimore have tried to knit and mend and deliver her to us. What Sappho set down will always be obscured, even in the Greek, so can we see her any better for this translation?

Stripping down Sappho's text with an eye on the purity of the shattered originals is a project that Carson has been moving towards for some time. The translations in this bilingual edition, If Not, Winter, reflect both her obsession with Sappho and her own poetic preoccupation with word, fragment, and the power of parts of speech. A classicist, essayist, and poet, Carson often concerns herself with myth and its ...


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