River Inside the River

Norton. Jun. 2013. 160p. ISBN 9780393239744. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393240443. POETRY
God isn't the hot breath of summer. He isn't even a warm creative spirit. As Orr (How Beautiful the Beloved) sees Him in "Eden and After," the first lyric sequence here, God is a doddering old man. He's not an old poet (which might suggest a lustiness of spirit) so much as a stiff academic with an arthritic mind: "prohibition gave Him pleasure," and His favorite word seems to be "no," while "Eve Liked to say 'Yes' " ("To No/To Know"). Although "Eden and After" is arguably the best of the three sequences here because it offers a mythological context, the other two sequences, "The City of Poetry" and "River Inside the River," contain several deeply evocative poems. Showcasing Orr's creative, somewhat comic take on life, the poems in "River Inside the River" are light musings that Orr usually builds to a vivid ending. Some of the poems here are autobiographical, for example, "I Killed My Younger Brother," which recounts the seminal tragedy of Orr's life when at age 12 he accidentally killed his eight-year-old brother in a hunting accident.
VERDICT Although a few of the poems seem somewhat derivative, especially those alluding to other poets, overall Orr's work has a haunting, Zen-like quality that speaks both on and off the page.
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