Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Orpheus Complex by Leonard Kress

The Orpheus Complex, Leonard Kress's new book from Main Street Rag , is excellent.

It's an ambitious sonnet sequence that combines the myth of Orpheus with the poet’s reflections on various other issues including the state of spirituality in America today, the problem of "translating" an ancient myth into a contemporary context, and the nature of poetry and its relationship to what poets are writing. Poetry at the start of the twenty-first century has become familiar, comfortable, safe.

Leonard Kress, the author of The Orpheus Complex seems to declare, "I’ve had enough of that." He asks us instead to imagine Orpheus, the ancient poet, sprung loose in America and writing intricate, rhymed sonnets that look at the world as it is and as it has been imagined by the poets who have come after him. The wonder of this book is that these poems don’t seem academic, simply a Modernist or Postmodernist exercise in literary self-consciousness. Rather, what stands out in “The Orpheus Complex” are the author’s erudition and considerable craft combined with his own deeply-felt life concerns.

The mix results in poems that are always surprising, knowing, and effecting.

This is a book of poems to open again and again.


Here are two of the sonnets from The Orpheus Complex:


A blinding locust storm in southern Illinois.
the kids who pick me up stole this Ford,
drinking and joyriding, reveling toward
the coast. And when they stop to let me pry
the black gook off the wipers, they screech away,
hysterical, my rucksack in their trunk.
I have surrendered to the road and pray
as I hitch, buffeted by each passing truck,

it will provide. And so it does. Two more rides,
Iowa cornfield to sleep, dancing stalks
and whispers--to be found you must be lost.
Falling stars throughout the night, roads
almost abandoned--a Mustang of six-packs
and four small-town girls, heading nowhere fast.


After the Polish of Szymon Zimorowic (1608-1629)

In this hidden grotto, no bird or bell
awakens you, no light can penetrate,
and memory-numbing waters always spill
from some deeper dungeon just to create
sweeter dreams. Let the black wings of night
rush over, longing to get in. Here, where,
poppies glow and silent blackbirds prepare
to nest-- Orpheus has come to meet

the one he’s watched night after night in dream.
The pleasure is greater the shorter it lasts,
or so he thinks. She grows more beautiful
with each pass, and he tries to touch her breasts.
Doesn’t he know she isn’t what she seems?
Doesn’t he know the multiple meanings of fall?


Leonard Kress's The Orpheus Complex is available at Main Street Rag. His translation of Adam Mickiewicz is available online and from Harrowgate Press. The Harrowgate site also contains other poems and translations by Leonard.

Leonard Kress blogs about poetry and other things at Myshkin 2.

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