Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved
by Gregory Orr
Poetry of Loss
A review by Ted Genoways
Gregory Orr's new book is dazzling and timeless. Sure, the trappings of modern life appear at the edges of these poems, but their focus is so unwaveringly aimed toward the transcendent—not God, but the beloved—that we seem to slip into a less cluttered time. It's an experience usually reserved for reading the ancients, and clearly that was partly Orr's inspiration.
I'm reminded of nothing so much as Issa's haiku (translated by Robert Hass): "The world of dew is the world of dew. / And yet, and yet—." Like this tiny rumination, Orr's poems don't feel like dusty museum pieces, because there's too much urgency of emotion, like the whisperings of a lover.
Yet, the poems are almost never autobiographical in any discernible way; the emphasis is entirely off of the quotidian and on the big questions that most contemporary poets fear to ask. Mary Oliver describes the effect as "Whitman without an inch of Whitman's bunting." That's it—but only partly. To be sure, Orr is striving for Whitman's sense of the Soul, but Whitman sought connection through the self, the body, and meticulous cataloging of the temporal world. These poems turn away from the self and toward the world, but like Georg Trakl, Pablo Neruda, or James Wright, the voice is so crystalline and distilled that what we see is not the world or the beloved so much as a shimmering reflection of the poet himself. As Orr writes,
Nothing more beautiful than the body
Of the beloved that is the world.
Nothing more beautiful than the voice
Of the beloved, calling our name.
It's like studying a lover's face reflected on the surface of a glittering pond. The effect is blinding and impressionistic, but the careful study of what is barely seen reveals more than any total picture ever could.
to VQR and Save over 40%!
Discover one of the country's great literary magazines and receive 4 issues
for only $32. Each book-length issue contains over 220 pages of essays, fiction,
poetry, reviews, art, and reporting from around the globe, from well-known writers to
up-and-coming talents. Winner of the 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for General Excellence, VQR is reimagining the literary journal for the
Click here to subscribe.