If you live in the UK you will certainly have seen these little gems around. (I assume they’re floating around the American market too.) It’s a set of 80 tiny books to celebrate Penguin’s 80th birthday and each book costs only 80p! HURRAH!
So I picked myself up a few of them. I thought I picked up only 5, but it turns out I picked up 6. Then I went to the bookshop again last weekend and picked up a 7th, so I don’t know when this little temptingly cheap collection will stop growing… (If I get all of them that’s, like, £64 so this needs to stop soon…or be collected over a long time because that just ain’t how I roll.) But I thought I’d compile my mini reviews of the first three that I’ve read because they all fall under the umbrella of poetry and it is poetry month after all!*
Let me be the first to admit that I don’t always understand everything in poetry…but I’d like to! It often feels purposefully inaccessible, esoteric and exclusive (similarly to the worlds of Fine Art and academia actually…) But I’m not giving up on poetry and I hope it doesn’t give up on me.
It is worth noting that many of these little books are excerpts and/or amalgamations taken from other works by the authors. Few of them were originally intended to be arranged in the way they are presented in this series, but I trust the curatorial work of the editors and I think a lot of consideration has been put into grouping works into subjects or pulling out substantial shorts.
• So the first Little Black Classics book I read was Come Close by Sappho.
That later on,
Even in an age unlike our own,
Someone will remember who we are.
Something about that simple sentiment is beautiful in its irony. I’ve wanted to try Sappho for a while now and, as it’s now poetry month, it seemed an appropriate time to try this short collection. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t always ‘get’ poetry and I can’t claim to have really thoroughly understood it all, but I feel like a got the feeling of most of it and I liked everything I did get. I’ll probably reread it a few times to see if my understanding gets any better though. I always feel like my understanding of ancient poetry would benefit from me knowing more about the context around which it was written. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to look more at ancient history myth and non-fiction as a supplement.
I assume the collection has been translated with an emphasis on reflecting the rhythm of the poems as there are a lot of rhyming lines and I would think a direct word for word (or even, maybe, meaning for meaning?) translation wouldn’t be wrapped so neatly, but I liked it. The flow helped me grasp what was being expressed a little better.
I think I am, perhaps, more interested in the story of Sappho herself than the work if I am honest with myself. She seems progressive for her time, but perhaps she wasn’t. Perhaps she was quite ordinary which, in itself, would be an interesting phenomenon: a more progressive past than our present…at least in some ways.
3 stars (though better understanding of more of the text might find it at 4 stars)
• Next came The Dhammapada
Exactly as one might expect (though with more hell-talk than I had anticipated). It expounds virtuous ideals about how to live. Not all of it is particularly logical in its deductions and contradiction abounds, but then that tends to be the nature of religion. It is often down to interpretation I suppose.
Many of the similes are dubious but, at the very least, they are perhaps culturally informative.
As a work of poetry, it uses a lot of repetition which, when using the text as a mantra or prayer, probably makes the verses easier to remember. I imagine this is more a practical device more than a poetic one. The Dhammapada is poetry of a kind, written in a similar fashion as The Bible. It feels somewhat dramatic and fun to read aloud at times.
• And most recently I read Speaking of Śiva.
More poetic and less straightforward than The Dhammapada, but oddly more engaging and intriguing (…not to draw unfair comparisons) but that may be due in part to the subject matter: sex and death.
*It’s also mental health month (and sexual assault awareness month?) so I might be reading some other books on those topics too if I can fit them into my schedule.