- Kind: Perfectbound
- Pages: 178
- Language: English
- Date Published: April, 2022
- ISBN: 978-1-953252-53-1
What six words best describe the author of Sarah White’s new memoir, The Poem Has Reasons: A Story of Far Love? Daughter. Mother. Artist. Poet. Professor. Translator. Write a sestina using those six words, translate it into Old French, and you’ll have a glimpse into this remarkable woman’s remarkable life. —J.R. Solonche
This is a vida (a biography or memoir), a razo (an account of why the author wrote this or that poem), and a tenso (a debate, chiefly about what is better, a far-away lover or a lover here and now). Paradoxically, Sarah White has managed to enjoy both, a lover that is right now caressing her lips, her tongue, and her mind, but from a far-distant past: the Old Occitan language of the troubadours. It is a beautiful paradox, and the theme of this book, which will enchant lovers of poetry. —Ricardo Nirenberg
I tend to shy away from confessional and self-reflexive art, but nobody I have read can transform difficult experiences like Sarah White. Pure gold. The ultimate poetic alchemy. She does not erase herself, but the reader is not invited into a maudlin sharing. I would say the decorum is perfect, but “decorum” sounds so prissy. Reserved? What? May she just keep doing it. —Eugene Garber
Sarah White’s new book is unclassifiable. It is, by turns, scholarly, intimate, poetic, and eccentric—all in the best senses. She calls it a memoir, and it is; but it is also a biographia literaria and a family saga. It features a collection of translations and original poems accompanied by profound meditations on the troubadours, Dante Alighieri, and the demands of the sestina. The “Reasons” of the title refers to the razo and vida traditionally appended to the love poems of medieval Occatania. Fittingly, the book presents the author’s life and discloses the origins of her own verses as well as her vital distinction between far loves and near ones. The troubadours are her great love, far in time but near in spirit. Like them, Sarah White writes when love goes well and even more when it doesn’t. Her book is an education and a delight. —Robert Wexelblatt
The Razo Game
In the year 1275, a middling Man of Letters makes his penurious way across Northern Italy, to Padua, say, where a Lord and Lady have commissioned him to compile a chansonnier (poetry anthology) for their library. In his luggage are several Occitan manuscripts, and in one of these he finds the following tenso, or debate poem, between a certain Bernard Arnaut and an otherwise unknown trobairitz (woman troubadour). He doesn’t know much about the two poets, who have been dead for fifty years or so, but he chooses the tenso because the woman’s name, Lombarda, and some place names mentioned in the exchange might interest his Italian hosts. Here is the tenso translated into English by Bruckner, Shepard, and White in Songs of the Women Troubadours:
I’d like to be a Lombard for Lady Lombarda;
I’m not as pleased by Alamanda or Giscarda.
She looks at me so kindly with her sweet eyes
that she seems to love me, but too slowly,
for she withholds from me sweet sight
and keeps her lovely smile
to herself; no one can move her.
Lord Jordan, if I leave you Allemagna,
France, Poitou, Normandy and Brittany,
surely you should leave me, uncontested,
Lombardy, Livorno and Lomagna.
And if you’ll be my ally
I’ll be ten times more yours
with your own lady, a stranger
to all baseness.
Mirror of Worth,
comfort is yours.
Let the love in which you bind me
not be broken for a villain’s sake.
I would like to have the name Bernarda,
and to be called, for Lord Arnaut, Arnauda;
and many thanks, my lord, for being so kind
as to mention me alongside two great ladies.
I want you to say
which one pleases you the most,
and in which mirror you are gazing.
For mirroring and absence so discord
my inner chords that I can barely stay accorded,
but, remembering what my name records,
my thoughts accord in good accordance.
Still, I wonder
where you’ve put your heart;
neither its house nor hut
can be seen. You keep it silent.
Sarah White studied French and Italian at Radcliffe College and the University of Michigan, specializing in medieval language and literature. After teaching French at Franklin & Marshall College for twenty-three years, she moved to New York, where for the past twenty-two years she has been writing and painting. Some of Sarah’s drawings appear in this book. Her books of poetry include The Unknowing Muse (Dos Madres Press, 2014), Iridescent Guest (Deerbrook Editions, 2020), and Fledgling (WordTech Communications, 2021), a chapbook of sonnets.