Orr's narrative tells how he became a poet--when I first read his poetry, I found it difficult to withstand the unresolved grief at its centre--I could not 'face' it.
He had shot and killed his younger brother in a hunting accident when he was 12 years old, the book tells the story of what followed in luminous text, not a word is superfluous, not a word out-of-place (it is indeed a telling set in 'place': the two houses where he grew up, the hairy-scary outings with his father, the family's year in Haiti, Orr's time in Mississippi as Civil Rights activist, his moment of revelation in a field of iron statues). His coming-to-be-the-poet.
And when I moved from 'The Caged Owl' poems which had threatened to undo me--to his more recent 'Concerning the Book That Is The Body Of The Beloved', I not only sensed the shift but began to see the sense of it.
In his words:
You lost the beloved.
You thought: her page
Is torn from the book
Of life. You thought
It's as if he never lived
How wrong you were:
Loss writes so many
Poems in the Book,
Writes until its hand aches,
Till it's exhausted
And can't write anymore.
Then it sings a song.
(Gregory Orr, 'Concerning The Book That Is The Body Of The Beloved', p194)
And now I am two-thirds through Siri Hustvedt's search for an understanding of her shaking condition. She documents a journey through neurology and psychiatry, through the history of philosophy and psychology. It is a narrative of her search through 'space', not 'place' and yet she continually brings the theory back to her personal experience, her own body within that space. It is more extended essay then narrative, more a coming-to-language itself.
But how and why do these books concern me so? And they do.
I find myself connected to each of the texts, emotionally and intellectually but especially emotionally. And the gift of looking within--their stories, their losses, their questions. And mine.
First binding of '26 Poems I have Encountered' (2009)