Retallack essay - The only works we have left of this...

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Robert England HON 180 – Performance 2 After listening to Joan Retallack read her poetry, one phrase stands out in my mind: “defies translation”. The phrase stands in a line by itself, in the collection known as Afterimages , seemingly unconnected to the lines above and below it. It is a simple two words, yet in my eyes it seems to characterize Ms. Retallack’s work. The words she uses are mixed as if they form some kind of code to be interpreted. When looked at, the words do form nice patterns, which translate to a haiku-sounding style when read aloud. However, the fragmented style of the poetry clouded its purposes, and I had trouble finding the true meanings of the cracked lines. Another example of the poetry’s lack of cohesion is the four letter combination “Saph”, which appears in the same poem. If I am reading this correctly, it is a reference to the Greek poet Sappho, whose works I read recently for my Civilizations course.
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Unformatted text preview: The only works we have left of this particular poet are a number of fragmented pieces of parchment, some with little more than a single word remaining intact. Ms. Retallacks work seems to mirror this: the lines in her poems seem broken and fragmented, an effect only amplified when the poetry is read aloud. After reading the fragments of Sappho, I wondered how someone even begins to translate something where few pieces remain. I wonder what would happen if some culture in the distant future happened to find Joan Retallacks poetry and read it. Perhaps they will look at it like we look at Sapphos work: they can read it, but they will think that it parts are missing or incomplete. They would likely spend a lot of time imagining how to fill in the blanks. On the other hand, perhaps Sappho thought then like Joan does now and wrote her poetry to appear fragmented as well. We shall never really know....
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This essay was uploaded on 04/19/2008 for the course HON 180 taught by Professor Hatlen during the Fall '05 term at University of Maine Orono .

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