The Greek poet Sappho is one of the greatest poets in classical literature. Her lyric poetry is among the finest ever written, and although little of her work has survived and little is known about her, she is regarded not just as one of the greatest women poets, but often as the greatest woman poet in world literature. She lived on the island of Lesbos around 600 BC and even in her lifetime, her work was widely known and admired in the Greek world. Plato called her 'the tenth muse', and she was a major influence on other poets, from Horace and Catullus to more recent lyric poets. Yet in later centuries, speculation about her sexuality has tended to diminish her poetic reputation. One medieval pope considered her so subversive that her poems were burnt. Some of her poems were written for the women she loved, but her circle of women friends and admirers was not unlike Socrates' circle of followers. She may have been a lesbian in the modern sense, or she may not, but to call her a lesbian poet is an over-simplification. What remains is her poetry, or the fragments which have survived of it, and her intense, sensuous, highly acoomplished love poems are among the finest in any language. Bloodaxe published Josephine Balmer's translation of her surviving poetry, Poems & Fragments, in 1992, followed in 2018 by a second, expanded edition including fragments discovered in recent years. Josephine Balmer was born in Hampshire in 1959. She studied Classics and Ancient History at University College, London, and is a research scholar, journalist, critic and translator. She has published four books with Bloodaxe: her translation Sappho: Poems and Fragments (1992, 2018) and the companion anthology, Classical Women Poets (1996), and her new translation Catullus: Poems of Love and Hate, published in 2004 with Chasing Catullus: poems, translations & transgressions. Her other titles include Rearranging the World: an Anthology of Literature in Translation (British Centre for Literary Translation, 2001); Piecing Together the Fragments: Translating Classical Verse, Creating Contemporary Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2013); The Word for Sorrow, for which she was awarded a Wingate Foundation Scholarship (Salt Publishing, 2009 & 2013), Letting Go (Agenda Editions, 2017); and The Paths of Survival (Shearsman Books, 2017), which draws on Aeschylus's lost tragedy, Myrmidons. She has written widely on poetry and translation for publications such as The Observer, The Independent on Sunday, The Times, The Times Literary Supplement and The New Statesman, and has been reviews editor of Modern Poetry in Translation. Chair of the Translators' Association from 2002 to 2005, she is a judge of the Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, and editorial advisor to the poetry journal Agenda. She was awarded a PhD by Publication in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She sets the daily Word Watch and weekly Literary Quiz for The Times, and lives in Crowborough, East Sussex.
Balmer's translations are the best I have read to date. She gives me the trace of a spirited, deed-minded, direct, guileless soul, and she modestly fulfils Boris Pasternak's demand that "ideally translation too will be a work of art; sharing a common text, it will stand alongside the original, unrepeatable in its own right". -- Christopher Logue * Literary Review *