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This review is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

GAY ROMANTICS? A comparison of Sappho, Poems and Fragments (Bloodaxe) £5.95 and Women of the Red Plain. (An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Women's Poetry) (Penguin) £7.99

Sappho's Poems and Fragments and Women of the Red Plain span thousands of miles and two and a half millennia of changing ideas. How do we place

Sappho in an age of gender equality and the Chinese poets within our humanistic, Capitalist western culture? To judge either by our standards seems unfair and comparing them is rather like juxtaposing a mattress with an aubergine. Even so, there are clear distinctions between them and if anything, Sappho, without the Chinese advantage of centuries of poetic movement behind her, emerges as a stronger poet, with greater individuality, maturity and conviction. Was she the Germaine Greer of her time? Not quite - but by focusing on all that women represent to her, she does achieve a sharp artistic edge. In a reflection of the ideological and socio-sexual changes contemporary women were experiencing, she challenges the often misogynistic portrayal of women in ancient Greek literature. She is not afraid to say it is important to pursue ' … whatever you desire' (Desire: 21) and in an uninhibited contrast of traditional male and female views of what is most desirable, she shows a degree of sexual emancipation. A woman, with all her charms, is certainly preferable to 'a fleet of ships', but Sappho's adoration of women is neither superficial nor lustful. In a time when marriage was being devalued, women's sexuality feared by men and the ideal love that of a man for a man, she reaffirms the sexuality, status and importance ...


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