A review of Sapphic Touch edited by Suman Lahiry and Heidi Chappelow

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

Sapphic Touch
Poetry Forum for Queers 2021 Anthology
Edited by Suman Lahiry and Heidi Chappelow
ISBN: 9780646821474, 98pages, paperback

Sapphic Touch is a fascinating anthology in which 41 writers have written on a Queer theme. Sappho is a Newcastle based poetry forum for writers who consider themselves Queer (meaning that they identify in a plurality of ways such as homosexual, transexual, bisexual and non-binary). The work in this book is all on Queer themes and written by a range of authors with a variety of orientations, who are, according to the editors, “siphoning their inner Sappho.”

Having edited three anthologies and coedited two others I know by experience what an intense and complicated job it is to compile and edit them. The editors have done a fantastic job, I really appreciated that they were ethnically inclusive and selected not only well-known poets but also emergent and new ones.  In no way demeriting the anthology I would have liked a more traditional approach in the design, for example to include an index and the biographies to be placed at the end of the book in order not to distract from the poetry and perhaps instead of accepting three poems per writer select the best one from each poet. 

The themes of the poems included are as varied in themes as they are in styles a fact that makes such a rich anthology. Themes such as being queer, about the social structures, mental illnesses, the fight for power, queer politics, being queer and personal observations are all in Sapphic Touch.

The styles of the poems also are very varied.  The reader will find narrative poetry without poetic devices, narrative poetry with poetic devices, performance poems, fun poetry, post-modern poetry, trans-poetry (post-post-modern poetry) and poetry that attempts not to fit into any particular style … and some which are attempts at being different. 

Some of the poems contain simple lines but very expressive and set you thinking like in the excerpt from the poem titled “Setting” by Chris Brown (Pronouns: He/Him) who is a poet and teacher and the editor of Puncher and Wattman’s Slow Lories series:

nowhere to be (+ +)
your thoughts
out to this
blue exterior
because certain days
you have a say in setting –
new green roof
and grid of wires
cloud of promise
appropriated palm
explicating the rise
of the arid garden

Being a fighter for rights I was really impressed by the power of the words in a poem titled “I’m Not Going Anywhere” by Guy James Whitworth (Pronouns: He/Him) who is an Amnesty Award-winning artist and socio-political and environmental activist. The following is an excerpt from the poem:

Resilience against oppression makes me who I am,
I am rebellion. And I’m oncoming; yet you are just a man.
Intimidate me, if it gets you off, fix me with your stare
Think of me as worthless, but I’m not going anywhere.
Your system it is brittle and will break at some point soon.
And relentless, I’ll keep coming up, like the raising of the moon.
You may be straight and white and cis and male, a real life millionaire,
But still you hear the chanting, my kind will never go away. 

It is very difficult to write personal poems, some writers tend to write a poem because they have been impacted by an event or a strong emotion and wish to capture the experience in words.  Only a few poets succeed in turning the experience into a poem that will be meaningful to another person. Dr Helen Hopcroft (Pronouns: She/Her) was able to do so brilliantly in her poem titled “The 3am Prayer”, the following is an excerpt of the poem: 

In the chill hour before dawn,
writing pinpoints of light,
stars align,
draw themselves into crazy
patterns of foresight.
I light a cigarette and watch
fear swirl around my head.
a voice from the past
every time I strike a match –
“what feeling are
burning no?”

Can poets put science in their poems, one poet who can do that is Magdalena Ball (Pronouns: She/her), someone who I admire very much precisely because she embeds physics and science in her poetry, the following poem titled “Fermat in Wonderland” is an example:

I have no time
for rabbit holes
yesterday’s story
whispered by mosquitos
in a language too subtle
for apes.

Sometimes the poet does not need too many words to convey a lot of meaning, Peter Mitchell (Pronouns: he/Him) has achieved that in the following poem titled “Wild Risk”:

Your name
is a tendril.
It spirals from
my arse-lips
to my 
Your name
is danger:
a wreck on the rocks.
trouble me,
wild, wild risk!

… And I love a swear word or two in a poem, Richard James Allen (Pronouns: He/him) has no qualms to use them. Good on you James! Here follows his poem titled “STMs

(Sexually Transmitted Memories)
You stay with me,
After we fuck,
as if I am stained with you.
At least for a couple of days.
and then the stain wears off,
gradually, but irrevocably.
But not entirely
I am tattooed
with the faded insignia,
the ghost heraldry,
the eidolic blazonry,
of all my lovers.

Janette Hoppe (Pronouns: She/Her) in her biography said she was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and that her poetry is a reflection of her New Zealand Maori and Australian heritage, addressing contemporary social justice issues with intention of healing trauma through poetry and performance. I found this to be not only politically important, but also beautiful and very profound. Her short poem titled “Spawning” is a small gem, here it is:

pink flesh alien
I spawn you like some cursed creature
into this lost world
this world of darkness
        and chaos
you are the minute light
that shines through
foreign – are our bodies
after spawning

Being queer myself makes me so proud to read so many beautiful and deep poems from queer people and allies, and to be part of such a professional, intelligent and creative community. Thank you, Suman Lahiry and Heidi Chappelow, for bringing to light Sapphic Touch, an anthology to be enjoyed by all readers.

About the Reviewer: Beatriz Copello is a Dr Creative Arts and also a psychologist. She is a a former member of NSW Writers Centre Management Committee, and writes poetry, reviews, fiction and plays. The author’s poetry books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish) and Witches, Women and Words. Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.  She has read her poetry at events organised by the Sydney Writers Festival, the NSW Writers Centre, the Multicultural Arts Alliance, Refugee Week Committee, Humboldt University (USA), Ubud (Bali) Writers Festival.