Saturday, September 17, 2005

Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved

I have been reading Greg Orr's new book, Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved. I am totally blown away by this. It is a 197-page long poem sequence in five parts, that revolves around the idea of the "Beloved" as a kind of "Book" that is also the "World." It is breathtaking, and simple at the same time. Almost as if it were written by the love child of Walt Whitman (think the bold expansiveness of Leaves of Grass) and Li Po (think of the intricate minimal-ness of the most perfect poems of the Tang dynasty).

Here is a tiny sample:

"Who wants to lose the world,
For all its tumult and suffering?
Who wants to leave the world,
For all its sorrow?
Not I.
And so I come to the Book,
Which is also the body
Of the beloved."

pg 10

"To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That's crudely put, but . . .

If we're not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?"

pg 74

It is hard to excerpt this long and fascinating poem. It builds by accumulation and repetition of the themes. You can open it anywhere, and reap richly. You can read it forwards, backwards, every other page, and it is still the same book. Which I think is a quite a feat. And for anyone who knows what a loss is the loss of a beloved, this book provides succor and sustenance.


Robert said...

Thanks for this post, Peter. I love Orr's poetry (and some of his essays are great too)! I do have a problem with some of his recent poetry, though, which seems awfully "general." When I read a line like "If we're not supposed to dance, / Why all this music?" part of me responds to a sort of Rilkean profundity and radical originality, but part of me thinks it just sounds like a line from an "inspirational" speech by Oprah. I have to admit I often respond similarly to Li-Young Lee. Some of his poems seem to me to veer back and forth, sometimes from one line to the next, between astonishing originality and mind-numbing cliche. I don't mean that to sound as harsh as it probably does. I'd be pretty happy to think my own poetry achieved a combination of mind-numbing cliche and astonishing originality.

Peter said...

Robert, I have to agree with you, about the uneveness, some lines brilliant, some lines risking cliche.