Interview with Gregory Orr in this issue


Gregory Orr Photo Credit: Trisha Orr.


Contributor Notes


Works from CONCERNING THE BOOK THAT IS THE BODY OF THE BELOVED (Copper Canyon, 2005), HOW BEAUTIFUL THE BELOVED (Copper Canyon Press, 2009) by permission of Copper Canyon Press

Gregory Orr

Gregory Orr

Gregory Orr








“What is life?”

When you first

Hear that question

It echoes in your skull

As if someone shouted

In an empty cave.


The same answer each time:

The resurrection of the body

Of the beloved, which is

The world.


Every poem different, but

Telling the same story.

And we’ve been gathering

Them in a book

Since writing began

And before that as songs

Or poems people memorized

And recited aloud

When someone asked: “What is life?”












The things that die

Do not die,

Or they die briefly

To be born again

In the Book.


Did you think

You would see

The loved one again

In this world

Or in some other?


No, that cannot happen.

But we have been

Gathering, all of us,

The scattered remnants

Of the loved one

Since the beginning.


In Egypt, the loved

One is not in the pyramids

But in the poem

Carved in stone

About the lover’s lips

And eyes.

                        In the igloo

The poem gathers

The dark hair of the beloved.


All the poems of the world

Have been gathering the beloved’s

Body against your loss.

Read in the Book. Open

Your eyes and your heart;

Open your voice.

The beloved

Is there and was never lost.













When Sappho wrote:

“whatever one loves most

is beautiful,” she began

the poems of heart’s praise

which comprise the Book

of the body of the beloved

which is the world.


Everything in the Book

Flows from that single poem

Or the countless others

That say the same thing

In other words, other ways.












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.












Now the snow is falling

Even more than an hour ago.

The pine in the backyard

Bows with the weight of it.


Two years ago, my father

Died. What love we had

Hidden under misery,

Weighed down with years

Of silence.


                        And now,

Maybe the poem can free

Us, maybe the poem can express

The love and let the rest

Slide to the earth as the snow

Does now, freeing the tree

Of its burden.












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?












Calm down, calm down.

But why calm down?

When I’m dead and only

A poem in the Book

Read by someone

Not yet born,

Then I’ll be calm.

Then I’ll tell them

In a quiet voice

What a miracle it is

To be alive. I won’t

Shout and jump around.

I’ll whisper it in her ear.


And if I’m lucky

She’ll shout and jump

Around; her heart

Will beat a little faster.







From HOW BEAUTIFUL THE BELOVED (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)




If to say it once

And once only, then still

To say: Yes.


And say it complete,

Say it as if the word

Filled the whole moment

With its absolute saying.


Later for “but,”

Later for “if.”


Only the single syllable

That is the beloved,

That is the world.












The Book said we were mortal;

It didn’t say we had to be morbid.


The Book said the beloved died,

But also that she comes again,

That he’s reborn as words.


The Book said: everything perishes.

The Book said: that’s why we sing.












How beautiful

The beloved.


Whether garbed

In mortal tatters,

Or in her dress

Of everlastingness—


Moon broken

On the water,

Or moon

Still whole

In the night sky.












Not many of them, it’s true,

But certain poems

In an uncertain world—

The ones we cling to:


They bring us back

Always to the beloved

Whom we thought we’d lost.


As surely as if the words

Led her by the hand,

Brought him before us.


Certain poems

In an uncertain world.












Grief will come to you.

Grip and cling all you want,

It makes no difference.


Catastrophe? It’s just waiting to happen.

Loss? You can be certain of it.


Flow and swirl of the world.

Carried along as if by a dark current.


All you can do is keep swimming;

All you can do is keep singing.












This is what was bequeathed us:

This earth the beloved left

And, leaving,

Left to us.


No other world

But this one:

Willows and the river

And the factory

With its black smokestacks.


No other shore, only this bank

On which the living gather.


No meaning but what we find here.

No purpose but what we make.


That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:

Turn me into song; sing me awake.













Note to self: remember                                   

What Emerson said

Of Thoreau—

That he loved the low

In nature:


And crickets, suckers

And frogs.

Not stars.


Songs of the carnal,

Songs of what we are.












When the coffin closed at last,

When flames consumed it,

Your eyes were useless—


What tears could put out

That fire?

            And so, you shut them.

So, you let the lids of your eyes

Close over the beloved’s body.


For a while now—darkness.


And what you see will be inside you.












First, there was shatter.

Then, aftermath.


Only later and only slowly

We gathered words

Against our loss.


But last was not least,

Last was not least of these.












Lead of the heart;

Gold of song.


Alchemy of grief

The poem performs.












Bald, high-domed Taoist sage

Holding the Peach of Immortality

In one hand, a hiking staff in the other.


I like to think he’s reciting a poem,

One that begins: “To eat a peach...”

One that stresses its succulence,

And how the sticky, delicious juice

Dribbles down your chin.


He’s fresh from a rendezvous

With the beloved. Peach

And poem—both are her tokens.












River inside the river.

World within the world.


All we have is words


To reveal the rose

That the rose obscures.