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Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved [Paperback]

Gregory Orr

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Product details

  • Paperback: 199 pages
  • Publisher: Copper Canyon Press (Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556592299
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556592294
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 19.1 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 288,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars powerful, wise, moving book 9 Feb 2006
By Ilya V. Kaminsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is rare when a recognized poet, at the very height

of his talent, gives up the maneuvers and troupes that

gained him success, turns away--to begin something

completely new. "It is myself that I revise," Yeats

wrote. And in this powerful new collection, Gregory

Orr does just that. "Concerning the Book that Is the

Body of the Beloved" is a 200 page long spiritual

mediation of epic proportion, described as "an

incantatory celebration of the Book, an imaginary and

self-gathering anthology of all the lyrics-both poems

and songs-ever written." The description is apt, but

somewhat limiting. For in addition to its imaginary

epic ambition to be "an anthology gathered / since the

beginning of time, / gathering itself" the book also

serves as an ars poetica, a declaration of this poet's

intent to be open ("the poem didn't express / emotion,

it was emotion") in giving the voice ("to give form /

to her love and grief") to the deceased, and in doing

so to find his voice's origin. Orr's philosophy

touches upon the limitation of human reach ("unable to

touch / the body of the beloved because / inches of it

cover your skin"), uttering ("do words outlast / the

world / they describe?") and vision ("too many

mysteries... Why don't we stop") to propose the feeling

as the key to our understanding of our being here ("to

see the beloved, / to be seen by the beloved: / that's

where being starts"). His philosophy is very

skillfully grounded by the intimate details of this

world: "When my kids look for me I hope / they can

find min in the house, / or reach me by phone. // When

that won't work, / I hope they can find me in... the

poem or song someone wrote / or one of my own." This

grounding of the subliminal is very effective as the

collection proceeds to offer elegies to Orr's brother,

love poems to his wife, and moving invocations of

authors of various times, from Sapho to Apollinaire.

Observing his own time, Orr also serves an angry

indictment of the stagnation taking place in today's

literary arena, of writers who are "half-asleep" in

their work, who "could care less". For Orr cares. The

passion ("to feel, to feel, to feel") is evident.

Orr invests an enormous amount of emotional energy

("for me, my brother / ...the first departure / that

tore my heart") in the brief, spare lyrics. That is,

perhaps, what makes the book work so well: the volume

of Orr's voice can be loud or quiet, a whisper or an

incantation, but it is always emotionally charged,

always appealing to the reader's senses. It is by the

way of the heart that his wisdom comes: "You might

think the things I say / are too simple for words, /

too embarrassing to be spoken. // But if I repeat the

obvious, / where's the harm in that? // May be it was

always simple: / loss surrounds us".

The book's larger frame is the imaginary spiritual

text of "a self gathering of poems" that bear witness

to the world in which they are written, providing the

key to that world. This clear but quite ambitious

structure is balanced by Orr's skill as a poet. For

instance, he can be very musical: "Scar they stare at.

/ Scar they're scared of...a brightness that frightens."

He can also show how directness can reflect one's

inner turmoil, achieving insight: "A few things you

might want to know: / I am not an idiot. / I am not a

mystic. I've read / poems since before most people /

on the planet were born. / Read them and written them,

too. All the time believing they helped / me to live.

I was right. But / I was also wrong. /...Loss seemed to

me / the most of it. I believed in love / but I

thought its name was loss. / And worse: when I said

"life" / I meant "death." When I said "death" / I have

no idea what I meant."

What is most astonishing for me about "Concerning the Book

that is the Body of the Beloved" is that is

constitutes a book-long spiritual undertaking that's

also-unlike most projects of this sort--is very good

and readable poetry. Orr's charged and emotional lyric

reminds of Song of Songs' musical tide ("The world

comes into the poem./The poem comes into the

world./...As with lovers:/When it's right you can't

say/who is kissing whom") as well as the plain-spoken

intensity of Rumi. The composition of his collection

as a whole, however, and the thinking behind it, are

quite complex--in a way Edmond Jabes's work is a

complex tapestry ("I read the book for years / and

never understood a word") where the meaning is given

for a moment, and then taken away; but the

understanding remains. It is a wonderful, moving book. I recommend it highly.

--Ilya Kaminsky
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry For Survival 28 Dec 2008
By Steven Elliott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I don't remember now how I first encountered this book of poems. I bought a copy, read it straight through, and was so moved that I bought several more copies and gave them out to my closest friends last Christmas, 2007. I preach and teach at church and I read several of the poems to our congregation. While not a religious book, Orr's themes are the universal ones that touch all of us: life, death, loss, love and, of course the role poetry plays (like faith) in comprehending them all. I suppose, because of my own experiences of significant loss early in life (my best friend, my sister...), Orr's history resonated with me. I had no idea. A few short months after I fell in love with this book, in February 2008, my own precious 18 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Orr's book was still sitting on my nightstand, and, while I have read many helpful books about loss and grief, nothing has spoken to me like Concerning The Book That Is The Body Of The Beloved. I have turned to it again and again, and everytime I read it I find new insight, solace, a source of strength. As I have grieved, I have marveled at the total authenticity of Orr's writing. Here is someone who has passed through the fire, survived, and describes the experience, now, as a "blessing." The pain and loss has been transfigured and Orr has returned to bless others with the wisdom and compassion he has gained. It is a message of hope to those who are blind and lost because of their grief. Yesterday morning I read several poems in tears out loud to my wife from the Book that perfectly captured our experience...and offered a small glimmer of hope.
I simply can't recommend this Book enough. I have re-read this book more than any book in my considerable library. It a dear friend, a roadmap, a lantern. If the house was on fire, this book would be one of the precious things I would gather and take with me. It is that good. You don't have to be an intellectual or a poet to understand or appreciate it. Only human. The language is simple and direct and unpretentious. I am amazed at Orr's ability to address our deepest experiences without getting lost in the language. If you like Rumi or Rilke, you will find a familiar voice here. I am a poet myself. I am not sure I have come to the place where I believe that poetry resurrects the beloved. I wish it could. But poetry, at least the poetry Mr. Orr has written, has been a life saver. It has helped me to survive.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wisdom Literature 26 July 2006
By Steven Luke Hankins - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Orr's new collection is a timeless long poem that reads like wisdom literature and Eastern poetry, and will endure, as they have. This is one of the greatest (in the true sense of the word) poems of this decade, perhaps of the first half of this century. It speaks universally, as truly great poetry must; my father, at whom I've thrown countless poems with little reaction on his part, immediately ordered his own copy of this book after reading mine -- the first book of poetry he has ever owned.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the very best poetry...and more 26 Jun 2007
By Pit Menousek Pinegar, poet - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I most appreciate poetry that is accompaniment, poetry that leaves me knowing that I'm in intimately shared territory. We're not often encouraged to think of poetry that way. Poets, teachers and students of poetry are apt to think about poems (and collections of poems) in terms of poetic prowess, academic discipline or literary analysis. There's nothing wrong with doing that, but skill and intellectual examinations and appreciations by themselves won't keep me returning to a book almost daily, over a period of years. I want something more. This book continues to bring me the pleasures and consolations of accompaniment, the rigors of provocation, and inspiration to re-think/re-envision the capacities of The Poem/The Word/The World, and our capacities to experience them. I FEEL these poems--as a pulse, as a heartbeat. They are like filaments that bridge the gaps between body and psyche and soul.

Among many other things, CONCERNING THE BOOK THAT IS THE BODY OF THE BELOVED is a daring spiritual undertaking, a meditation, an expression of gratitude, an examination of life process and poetic process and the relationships between the two. The language of these poems is deceptively simple, their premises infinitely complex. My copy of this book opens familiarly to two pages, so I seem to start each day with one or the other:

The world comes into the poem,
The poem comes into the world.
Reciprocity--it all comes down
To that.
As with lovers:
When it's right you can't say
Who is kissing whom.

and from the other: ...
Was there anything
More wonderful?

How long did it last?
Maybe only a moment;
Maybe it was a dream.
We were afraid
To feel such joy.

(stanza break)

Still, it changed us,
And for once we knew
We belonged in the world.

If I had to leave my house in a hurry, had time to grab only one book, this would be it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Immortal, but uneven words 4 July 2010
By Katherine Cameron - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This poet makes a passionate and convincing case that words, "the Book", is the way we and those we love are in fact immortal. "It's words that bring the beloved back," he tells us.

I commend Gregory Orr for writing - most of the time - in a simple, plain spoken, lovely language; and for writing a book that will comfort and inspire many who grieve over the death of a loved one. He feels his way along as though he were in the midst of heartbreak right in front of us, yet also speaks frequently in the second person "you", as though we were with him, sharing his experience, or he sharing ours. This makes for good company.

I would gently criticize Gregory Orr for some unnecessary complications, and for some lapses into banality and cliche. The title of the book, and the concept of the word-body-world-beloved, seem tortured to me. I think this cumbersome construction is avoidable and off-putting. It adds a component of pretentiousness to a naked, humble collection of poems.

As to the banality and cliches... we are each our own judge of those instances when a writer says something too obvious, and in an obvious way. Sometimes doing so is nevertheless fresh, and in a lot of cases, Orr's simple phrases ARE fresh (and spectacular). But sometimes, his lines seem to me shopworn and lazy, e.g: "Why should the grave be final? / Why should death be everything?/ Isn't the world wonderful?/ Don't we want more of it?/ And in poems, life goes on/forever."

I rated this book a 3, but truly this is just an average between a five and a 1. There is nothing average about this book, or "3-ish". It is a combination of the sublime and moving (5 star), with the banal and obvious. (1 star)
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