These Days I Can’t Seem To Get Enough of Greg Orr, His Latest Book – Two More Wisdom Poems for Hard Times

American poet Gregory Orr. Photo Credit: Emily Bolden

It’s narrow . . .

It’s narrow, and no room
For error—I zig

And zag through
The treacherous channel.

What fool said joy
Is less risky than grief?

My ship could wreck
On either shore.

Needing to navigate
By contradiction:

What I want to grip,
I need to release.

When despair says
“Let go,” I must hold

Gregory Orr from The Last Love Poem I Will Ever Write, W.W. Norton & Company, 2019

I seem to be on a Greg Orr binge these days. To see last week’s post on Orr please click here and to see my introductory post to Orr back in 2012 please click here. Now the poem above and one below to feast on.

What to with opposites? How connected they can be in strange ways. Here in the poem above, It’s narrow . . ., two shores, each that can cause a wreck. Joy and despair. And then how to avoid coming aground on either. The lovely contradictions. The need to release joy, not clutch it. And the need to hold on to life when despair says: Let go.

Greg Orr’s poem from his latest book also makes me so aware of how I can hold joy at arms length. That way I think I will avoid the let down when it goes. For me that’s worse then holding on too tight to it! What I appreciate: the thought stirred by Orr’s poem that I must hold all of it lightly. Even my life. Letting go as our great act of generosity.

Orr is a huge believer in poetry as a great connector. And wow! we are seeing this hourly it seems to me online these days. A tsunami of poem sharing, poems to make sense of our fears and confusions, and/or provide comfort, during this tulmultuous time of pandemic. And Orr’s poems provide that sense and comfort for me. He reminds me that there can be great riches in the things in life that can seem damaging to us. They can transform us into so much more. Or they can shut us down. But Orr’s life embodies the former. His traumatic hunting accident where the gun he carried killed his brother when he was twelve has become the event that has made Orr the extraordinarily compassionate and understanding man he is today. And through his poems he reaches out to all of us with his hard won wisdom. And when that wisdom hits home for me I feel less alone.

In an interview with Mary Redmond in 2010 Orr talks about that power of poetry to make us feel less alone which may be why poetry seems to be all over the online space thee days:

Stanley Kunitz has a wonderful line about lyric poetry: “It’s the voice of the solitary that makes others less alone.” One threat to survival, it seems to me, is feeling all alone, feeling that there’s no connection between you and others, and that there can’t be. Sometimes you can’t have a connection with people who are physically around you. But connection for you could come through a poem written twelve hundred years ago in T’ang dynasty China, a poem that speaks about grief. This is part of the curious intimacy of lyric poems—no matter when it was written, you can feel as if someone is speaking to you. You hear the voice of that individual poet. With philosophy, those large abstract schemes, you don’t feel that intimacy. The poem is like the body of the beloved. It’s a human form. It’s a voice emanating from a body, bringing a message of connection.

When Orr uses the term beloved its origin reaches back to 2003 when it came to him out of a line that came to him while he was sleeping: the book that is the resurrection of the body, the beloved, which is the world. In an interview with Imagae Journal in 2010 he says: The beloved for me is first and foremost another person – but the beloved could be any aspect of reality that takes us out of ourselves, out of isolation into relationship, because relationship is meaning. The beloved could be a person, a place, a creature…”

And as the poem below says so well love is a key part of the relationship with the beloved in our lives. But often it comes to us out of great hardships. I wonder if this time of pandemic may be a time for many of us when love for the beloved or beloveds in our lives deepens and grows. We will come to know what is most important to us.

How often I've wished. . .

How often I've wished
It arrived by just
Sashaying in
Through my senses.

But for me, love
Couldn't enter
Until I was broken,
All the way to the center.

Right here, the blow fell—
A sledgehammer
Against a wall.
               And so,
A ragged door was made,
And the beloved came to dwell.

Gregory Orr, Ibid.

During this time, with its unexpected challenges and difficulties may the beloved come to dwell with all of us.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 30, 2020 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Love his memoir, The Blessing

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