What Would Sappho Say? Greek poet inspires Letchworth writing and art competition

The statue of Greek poet Sappho in Letchworth's Howard Gardens. Photo: Whitbreadtrophy on English Wikipedia

The statue of Greek poet Sappho in Letchworth's Howard Gardens. Photo: Whitbreadtrophy on English Wikipedia

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What would the ancient Greek poet Sappho – who has a statue in Letchworth – say if she popped back today? Ponder in a short essay, a poem or a piece of art and you could win a competition.

Jane Fae. Jane Fae.

Sappho’s association with Letchworth dates back to 1907, when sculptor Thomas Maclean’s sister Katherine donated the statue to the town.

And Letchworth journalist and writer Jane Fae is marking the link with a competition on the theme What Would Sappho Say? – the object being to provide your best guess at the answer.

Jane told the Comet that the initiative was focused on women, particularly younger women, living in Letchworth, and what Sappho would say about the progress being made for her gender and LGBT people in recent years.

Jane said: “It’s very unusual for a British town or city to have a woman statue, especially one as old as this – and particularly when it’s a statue representing this sort of independent woman rather than some sort of nymph. But then Letchworth has always been very progressive.

Garden City Collection curator Vicky Axell. Photo: Harry Hubbard Garden City Collection curator Vicky Axell. Photo: Harry Hubbard

“I would say her arrival here was more than accidental. She wasn’t necessarily associated particularly with lesbianism, she’s just been adopted by that. At the time the statue arrived she would have been associated with women’s suffrage, and the suffrage movement was very big in Letchworth.

“Sappho has been very much part and parcel of the community here. People dress her up for Hallowe’en and so on.”

The contest, sponsored by the Letchworth Gender Equality Network, is open to all – and winners, announced during the Letchworth Festival this June, will get a share of a £150 prize pot.

Entries are similarly diverse, with anything from five words to 800 accepted as an essay – with poems, cartoons and other art also welcome.

Jane said: “If somebody came up with a brilliant 10-line poem, then that’s great. I don’t want people writing small books for this – it’s really just about creative responses to what Sappho would say to women today.”

Partners on the project include the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, which runs the Garden City Collection in Wilbury Hills Road.

Garden City Collection curator Vicky Axell said: “We are very excited to work as partners on this project. Sappho, as a ground-breaking and talented woman, had good company in the pioneers of the early garden city.

“Our archive holds many images and objects connected with the lives of women who helped to make Letchworth a special place. It is really great to have an opportunity to make their stories better known.”

Letchworth’s statue of Sappho was originally at the corner of Station Way and Broadwater Avenue, but was moved to the Bell Memorial Garden in 1936.

It was stolen in 1998, but replaced by a replica in 2012, this time taking pride of place in Howard Gardens.

Judging the competition will be Julian Norman of human rights and arts charity FiLiA, Bath Gender Equality Network co-founder Ceri Jenkins, and former DIVA magazine arts editor Anna McNay.

To enter, send your entry to Jane Fae by May 26 – either send it by email to jane@ozimek.co.uk or, if this is not possible, contact Jane to make alternative arrangements.

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