5 Oct 2015

Postcards from Sulpicia by Tristram Fane Saunders

Postcards from Sulpicia by Tristram Fane Saunders
Time traveled poetry with nothing lost in translation.
Introductory Rant: At a time when Print on Demand has prompted a plethorisation in poetry publishing, it's for the positive that Aberdeenshire poetry press Tapsalteerie have continued to make a virtue of the finished article - the book itself.

If you've seen any of Tapsalteerie's pamphlets, you'll know what I am talking about. Handmade, often handbound, and always delivered crisp, their poetry collections from Calum Rodger, Ann MacKinnon, Stewart Sanderson and Tom McGrath have been neat, new and second to none.

Modest and yet stunning, the same is to be said of Postcards From Sulpicia, which are translations of a poet Sulpicia who is said to have lived in the rein of Augustus. 

The discovery of Sulpicia will be as much of a revelation to most as it was the translator, Tristram Fane Saunders, who says that these translations were 'born of anger' - an anger at after having had ten years of Latin education and never having heard her name once. 


Likely the most striking thing to be discovered about Sulpicia is that in fact she is the only known woman from Ancient Rome, whose poetry survives to this day.

The verses of Sulpicia were preserved with those of Tibullus and were for a long time attributed to him. They consist of six elegiac poems and while for a long time many academics regarded Sulpicia as an amateur author, notable for nothing but her gender, this view has been recently challenged and the literary merit of her poems has been more fully explored.

Although the collection of extant works by Sulpicia is small, it is still as Tristram Fane Saunders points out, more than exists of Sappho, and he describes here elegiac metre as 'moving between passionate frenzy and urbane cool'.  

He also takes a sensible and modest view on the act of translation - hence 'Postcards'.

'These translations are tentative, not definitive. A picture postcard can only capture the landscape from one angle. I'm wary of critics who talk about 'faithful' translation. Even if it's possible to paraphrase the content, the connotations of a certain line or phrase will always be lost in transit ... As a reader, I look for translations that work as poems; translations that can move, surprise and provoke. Nonetheless, I still want to know what the poet was saying. The less well-known the writer, the more important this communication becomes.'
From Foreward

The elegies themselves are beautifully presented along with the Latin originals, and a third and most important element - a literal English translation. 

I am not afraid to say that this makes for a supreme reading experience. Each of the six elegies is printed across two pages, and so with all the evidence presented - the Latin, a literal translation and a new poetic interpretation, the reader becomes translator also.

From this simple idea and neatness a poetic and academic resource has been created.  There is even a Latin glossary for each poem, which while kept to a minimum, guides the reader towards more contextual meanings.

Tristram Fane Saunders has teased out the strangeness of the originals and taken the poems 2,100 years forward to place them undamaged before us. It makes this simple and elegant pamphlet, a most rewarding experience, as well as the demonstration of a model of how to best approach translation, and its publication.

Tapsalteerie Poetry Press