How can I celebrate love/ now that I know what it does? So begins this booklength lyric sequence which reinhabits and modernizes the story of Orpheus, the mythic master of the lyre (and father of lyric poetry) and Eurydice, his lover who died and whom Orpheus tried to rescue from Hades.
Gregory Orr uses as his touchstone the assertion that myths attempt to narrate a whole human experience, while at the same time serving a purpose which resists explanation. Through poems of passionate and obsessive erotic love, Orr has dramatized the anguished intersection of infinite longings and finite lives and, in the process, explores the very sources of poetry.
When Eurydice saw him huddled in a thick cloak, she should have known he was alive, the way he shivered beneath its useless folds.
But what she saw was the usual: a stranger confused in a new world. And when she touched him on the shoulder, it was nothing personal, a kindness he misunderstood. To guide someone through the halls of hell is not the same as love.
"A reader unfamiliar with Orr’s work may be surprised, at first, by the richness of both action and visual detail that his succinct, spare poems convey. Lyricism can erupt in the midst of desolation."—Boston Globe
When Gregory Orr’s Burning the Empty Nest appear, Publisher’s Weekly praised it as an "auspicious debut for a gifted newcomer…he already demonstrates a superior control of his medium." Kirkus Review celebrated it as "an almost unbearably powerful first book of poetry" and enthusiastically reviewed his second book Gathering the Bones Together, noting that "Orr’s power is the eloquence of understatement." Most recently, his City of Salt was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Gregory Orr teaches at the University of Virginia.
A student's praise
By A Customer - February 5, 2002
Orr is currently my poetry instructor, and he read a few of these poems in my Classical Literature classes here at UVA. I might add that his hushed, musical way of reading the poems makes these lyrics even more transcendent than they already are. I have to say that this book is one of the most honed, compelling and moving collection of lyrics written on the violent, transforming nature of romantic love I have ever read. Yes, the Orpheus myth has been attempted by many of our major poets, but Orr approaches the story with such a clear-eyed and fresh approach, telling us in his quiet, rhythmic meditations the sharpness of heartbreak, the fragility of earthly love, the madness of O's lonely wandering. The Orpheus and Eurydice story becomes a metaphor for intense, unhinged love that transforms lovers into gods and goddesses, the kind of love that sends the madman-lover careening through both heaven and hell. Orr is a master of the lyric, and after reading this book I could not believe I... read more
Descending into the darkness of love & loss
By William Timothy Lukeman - October 31, 2009
This slim poetry sequence is one of deceptive simplicity, and gains in subtle but intense power as it progresses. A retelling of the tragic tale of Orpheus & Eurydice, it examines love & desire & grief with perception & precision. It's the precision of both a scalpel & a delicate etching tool, revealing the depths & complexity of the human heart with a single image, a single detail. Everything is scraped down to the bare polished bone, and made achingly beautiful with the adornment of a flower, a glimpse of sunlight, the endless mirror of still water.
Even if you're familiar with previous retellings of this tale, you'll still find something new & revelatory in these pages -- most highly recommended!
Doing Justice to the Myth
By Dustin Joseph Anderson - June 19, 2001
What I want with each retelling, whether it be a nursery rhyme or one of my grandfather's war stories, is something fresh and different. I love, of course, rereading my favorite books and poems, but with a tale like that of Orpheus and Eurydice, I'm simply not looking for the same story. I want a new perspective, not only a retelling, but a reshaping of the myth. Orr puts his own spirit into what many of you may know of as the tragic lives of the two lovers. He writes, however, from a place unlike most before him. With the same joy as seeing a film remade with exceptional talent, I read Orr's work with excitement and pleasure. It's not the same story. It's much more.
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