Issue 7


The fragments of Sappho are a conundrum, a tantalising glimpse of a world and sensibility that seem very like our own yet are closed to us forever. But they are also a figure – as Meghan Guss hints in her review of a new edition of Sappho’s poems – for the excitement of listening between the lines, of straining to hear what is just beyond reach. Guss even finds a touch of disappointment in versions which, benefiting from the discovery of new fragments, now appear to her too finished and whole. Many poets have commented on their sense of poems emerging from silence, from the inarticulate. And spaces in poems, the silences and interruptions, all that white space, are in some way symbolic of the journey back into silence, and the quest to press the flux of reality into words. One way to do so may be to converse: in dialogue, listening as much as speaking, we can eavesdrop on each other’s silences and, intuiting what may be at work there, try to lure it forth. In this issue of Raceme, we have two such conversations, both of which, in their different ways, seem intent on moving beyond the narrower confines of the authorial ego.

Silence can be both painful and fertile: poets can make conscious use of a kind of Sapphic fragmentation to express pain and loss, as Katrina Naomi does in one poem here. And silence is also of course what women were historically condemned to for centuries. It is natural to seek to redress that imbalance and injustice, to fill that long-borne silence with a clamour long- overdue, as happens strikingly in the Project Boast volume, an anthology of 29 women poets, reviewed here. Interestingly men also – such as James Harpur in this issue – decry the loss or lack of the ‘feminine principle’ in our culture, as does Philip Lyons, if less overtly, in a review of an agonising book on failings in care to a vulnerable young woman. Here we seem to arrive at a cliff edge where poetry might become redundant in the face of harsh reality. But, pace Adorno, as Pippa Hawkins shows in three poems about caring for her late husband, there is nowhere that poetry cannot go in the pursuit of painful human truth. Perhaps it might even find ways to touch on that least poetic of subjects, and most unpalatable of words, Brexit, and in doing so help us to understand views and sensibilities otherwise alien to us. This is at least part of the impetus underlying the collaborative project between Philip Gross and Lesley Saunders, reviewed here and also discussed by the authors themselves. Another dialogue conducted entirely in poems figures in this issue in the response of a poet to poems by his own father, long after they were written and after the latter’s death. It seems heartening to think that conversation can continue even when one of the parties to it has gone into an otherwise unreachable silence.

Those of a religious sensibility, as long as they remain undogmatic, share with poets the desire to explore fluid realms beyond mundane utterance. Paul Matthews, James Harpur and John F. Deane enquire into the importance of religion to their work, and the affinity it seems to have with the ‘unknowing’, or negative capability that can broaden and deepen their exploration of human experience.

Elizabeth Bishop was deeply tuned to resonant silence, to things not spoken. In his probing and wide-ranging study of her and Robert Frost, John Lucas seems to come down on the side of her numinous if at the same time non-religious sensibility. Bishop was too great a poet to rest in the comfort of a ‘world view’ but, never departing from the small scale of things she described with such care, she seems to earn by that faithfulness the right to admit wonder into the world. What so many poets have in common perhaps, however different they may be, is the desire to tune in somehow to – as Steve Eddy has it in the final poem – the ‘unutterable / singularity / at the world’s core’.

With new contributing editor Philip Lyons, Raceme now appears twice a year, in spring and autumn. We thank our readers for their support and look forward, with your help, albeit against the odds, to trying to continue to survive. Please spread the word, and please resubscribe.