“An Army of Lovers”: Sappho’s Influence on Second Wave Writers and Artists

“It would be hard to think of another poet whose status is so disproportionate to the size of her surviving body of work,” wrote Daniel Mendelsohn in his 2015 New Yorker essay about the life of Sappho. An Archaic Greek poet from the island of Lesbos—from which the modern day word “lesbian” originates—the surviving fragments of Sappho’s writing contain many mentions of female beauty and relationships between women. And although only pieces of her body of work remain today, she survives as a symbol of lesbian love that is very much apparent in the work of female poets and visual artists during Second Wave Feminism. Sappho’s influence manifests in many different ways throughout the Second Wave—from Echo of Sappho, a periodical dedicated to her memory, to “Dear Sappho,” an advice column featured in the journal The Lesbian Tide, to a myriad of works, both writing and art, inspired by fragments of her poetry. Sappho’s influence remains clear in the work of writers beyond the 1970s as well, as is apparent in the 2005 poem “Hubble Photographs: After Sappho,” by prominent Second Wave poet Adrienne Rich. To this day, she remains a symbol of queer female love in poetry and visual art—and through this project, I hope to uncover what exactly about her surviving work remained so captivating in the 1970s and beyond.

-Delilah Delgado

Sappho and the Lesbian Poetic Tradition: Judy Grahn’s Perspective

Rita Mae Brown – “Sappho’s Reply”

Echo of Sappho

The Lesbian Tide

Adrienne Rich – “Hubble Photographs: After Sappho”