Gregory Orr’s 2005 Concerning the Book That is the Body of the Beloved has been a godsend during a tough seven-year stretch that made it hard for me to feel human. Orr’s short lyrics insist that I stay connected to everything worth holding on to: empathy, perspective, hope, and the root of all these–love.
There is a word that stands out to me now: dimensionality. It lives as hope in these poems, a much-needed balm in the face of our current social climate. Most breathtaking is the invitation Orr leaves for the reader: to keep seeking in the face of loss. These poems affirm to me that I exist in both sorrow and joy. I live in the tension of being both unmoored and tethered to the world. We all experience elevating and diminishing moments; our job, this book seems to argue, is to embrace all of it: “a book about living / has to be filled with dying. / And a book of joy / will be full of sorrow.”
One of the unifying ideas of this book is that hurt and loss are ever present; they wait for us; they try to undo us. Orr’s knows that I, like so many of you, are “facing away from the light” and that as a result, “so much of [the world] / was obscured / by my own long shadow.” This is only right. This is only human. But to look back upon the world and to once again acknowledge that “each object / gilded and glowing / in the sun / know the sum of them / is the beautiful / body of the beloved,” this is also essential to our humanity.
This collection shows me that I must reckon with the most challenging aspects of the world. I am able to pass through and not just persevere, but also reshape them by my presence. I am thinking specifically about issues my fellows citizens and I still face related to race, class, gender and sexual identity–in short, the full spectrum of humanity. This book names none of these particular challenges. But by insisting there is a “beloved” to seek out and reclaim from death, I am reminded that although “loss / [announces] itself as absence,” if I just keep moving forward, the beloved “is arriving / out of the future, eager to greet us.”
Poetry, at its best, does not indoctrinate or preach. It instead reminds me of my obligation to uncover all those elements that keep me humane. These poems remind me that life is short. I have only so much time to fight for, and retain, the best parts of myself. This book serves as a guidepost to what I already know: that total faithlessness and despair toward a world that can also be impossibly beautiful is a tragedy both personal and profound.
And because of this book I remember to live and hope “in a thousand languages” and that truly living isn’t “magic, it isn’t a trick. / Every breath is a resurrection.”