Gregory Orr

My good friend Chris Higashi is on the board of Copper Canyon Press, a poetry-only publisher located in Port Townsend, Washington.  In honor of National Poetry Month, I asked her to contribute to the Book Lust Forever blog.  Here’s what she said:

Our holiday tradition for Copper Canyon Press board and staff is to have a brief business meeting, then to adjourn and enjoy good food and wine, and read aloud favorite poems to one another. To watch people’s faces as they talk about and read poems they love is so moving. I always leave with a list of titles to pull from my bookshelves at home.

 Two years ago, three of us showed up with the same book, Gregory Orr’s Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved (Copper Canyon, 2005). Now, out of all the books the Press has published in its three-decades-plus history, the likelihood of this—a book not particularly well known or widely reviewed—is slim. We each chose different poems for different reasons.

 The 174 untitled short poems in Orr’s book are really one long poem. I think of them as primarily about death and grief. I shared three poems I had read at my dad’s funeral two months prior. Here’s one:

Not the first lessons of grief —
They are all about sorrow.
But stay to the end of the teaching,
Where grief reads from the Book,
Reads a poem you never heard before,
A poem about the beloved.

It talks about how he thinks
Constantly of us, and
How we miss her so.

And how we meet in the poem.

Others say these are love poems, and I don’t disagree. This is a book I keep at bedside. I can open it anywhere and read poems that move, soothe, and comfort.

Mary Oliver has written, “Greg Orr is here a Walt Whitman without an inch of Whitman’s bunting or oratory. Greg Orr is a gorgeous poet and this is a gorgeous book.” (n.b. Onstage in Seattle, two years ago, asked to name her three favorite poets, Oliver answered, “Whitman. Whitman. And Whitman!”)

 Orr’s How Beautiful the Beloved (2009) similarly comprises 80 short poems. Much is said in few words. For example:

Squander it all!

Hold nothing back.

The heart’s a deep well.

And when it’s empty,
It will fill again.

At friends’ recent lovely Quaker wedding, I wished I had How Beautiful the Beloved with me to read them this poem:

We could say No to love,
But love itself
Doesn’t say No.

We could say Yes
To Love,
But it might not
Arrive any sooner.

Whole years going by
In which we never
Catch sight of the beloved,

And then suddenly …

For whoever thinks she doesn’t like or understand poetry, who thinks poetry isn’t for him, but equally for the poetry aficionado, see Gregory Orr’s two books.



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2 responses to “Gregory Orr

  1. If I may express it this way, I love poetry but there are not that many poems that I love. So, wow, thanks to you and Ms Higashi for bringing Orr to our attention, I will certainly explore his work!

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