Leonard Kress: Braids & Other Sestinas

Braids & Other Sestinas. Number 7 in the Keystone Chapbook Series and co-winner of the 2010 Keystone Chapbook Prize, selected by guest judge Betsy Sholl:

“Easy to think a collection of twenty sestinas (minus envoy) would be drear, repetitive, self-indulgent. But read these poems, and something happens. Call it surprise, call it the poet letting the poem loose to fly and going along on the tailwind. The poet pays homage to other artists, explores myth and the great biblical themes, writes of love and grief. At times the form becomes nearly invisible as the voice takes over. There’s a rollicking cleverness that turns away from itself into the deeper/darker heart of its concerns, as in the final poem where a son grieving for his dying mother says ‘Strange for us offspring–parents retracting into kids,/ Meeting ours along the way, flashing signs.’ I find these poems challenging, compelling, and moving in both muscular and emotional ways.”

Publication date: May 21, 2011 [125 copies]
ISBN-13: 978-0-9829396-8-0
42 pages
$ 7.00

Cover art by Mania Dajnak: www.maniadajnak.com

Leonard Kress grew up in and around Philadelphia. He studied religion at Temple University, creative writing at Columbia, and Polish literature and folklore at The Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. His collections of poetry include The Centralia Mine Fires (Flume Press), Sappho’s Apples (HarrowGate Press), Orphics (Kent State University Press), and The Orpheus Complex (Main St. Rag Press). Currently, he teaches philosophy, religion and creative writing at Owens College in northwest Ohio.

a sample poem:

Eradicating the Rodent

Picasso said to Braque, I see a squirrel
In your painting, there among the table top
Items–tobacco pouch, pipe, etc. No, 
Said Braque, until he looked again; 
He was, after all, a formalist
In control of what the viewer does and does not see.

Now that you mention it, I can’t not see
It there. Annoying rodent, haplessly squirreled
Away in mind, cracking the formalist’s
Nut. Picasso was, of course, at the top
Of his game, and had nothing to lose or gain 
If someone spotted a penguin where no

Bird was, in an etching, say, of two blue figures we know
Are alone, with a heel of bread, some wine. We could see
The interloper and laugh again, 
As now we see it/ now we don’t. He could kill the squirrel
If it twitched its nose, bring down his brush hard on the top
Of its skull. Those silly, gutless, control-freak formalists

Got it all wrong. But what happens when formal
Coherence is attempted in an abstract composition. No
Need to explain or eradicate. A spinning top
Appears, let it twirl, as long as you want to see
It, spin along, watch for its bite, but feed the squirrel,
And after losing yourself in dots & swirls & shapes, look again

To see them transformed. A jazz musician gains
Your trust by introducing a well-known form
Of a melody, seizing it, mocking it, then squirrelly
Letting it dissolve into the chord changes. He knows
That we know, just as the painter will see
What we see, and each time it’s like taking it from the top,

Once more, like a simple gift, cherry on the top
Accidental, momentary, stage front, dropped again
To foment desire. Don’t you see
How it works? How formalism 
Abhors a vacuum, that there should be no
Need for eradication. Look, gone in a flash, that squirrel.

[first appeared in Harvard Review]

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Purchase Leonard’s chapbook here.

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