Monday, March 6, 2017

Evening ~ Timing ~ Floating
Poetry by Leonard Orr

WHY WE HAVE EVENING
by Leonard Orr
Publisher: Cherry Grove Collections
2010, 110 pp., $18.00

In case you have ever wondered Why We Have Evening, these poems by Leonard Orr offer a succession of beautiful reasons. We have evening for finding love and losing it and getting it back again; for breaking and mending and rebuilding, stronger than before; for cloud watching, stargazing, looking at old photographs, collecting rocks, updating our calendars, filling in blanks, marking time.

We have evening for learning lessons from the secret world of insects, more complex than we know:

"They seem so alike to us, these brood - ten cicadas, but
they have their passionate dreams and so filled with hope,
a lesson to me."

~ from "Cyclic" (15)

for reading in bed, in manner of Italo Calvino:

"Would we ever be so used to sharing a bed
we would spend the last half hour
reading our books and saying good night
without making love one more time?"

~ from "Asking" (17)

for joining in with the crowd, on a good day, on the way home:

"Inching along I mouthed to those around me,
'Record high temperature! Not bad!' showing
thumbs up, wanting to celebrate with my community."

~ from "Aftereffects" (21)

for dreaming, uroboros - style:

"You were reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead and I was finally asleep. . . . In my dream you were asleep beside me and I was lying on the propped up pillows reading the I Ching and I thought about chance and contingency, randomness and the shaping forces of the universe. . . . I watched your sleeping face . . . In the depth of your sleep . . . you dream you were reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead and I was finally asleep."

~ from "Reading" (23)

for contemplating the cosmos, with no heavenly body left unturned:

"Space exploration, what a waste, planet after planet,
the moon and the stars, comets and asteroids,
it is all a black hole, for you are somewhere on earth."

~ from "In Your Absence" (25)

for finishing manuscripts, yours, mine, ours:

"I place your page neatly on top of mine,
tapping the edges to line up perfectly,
taking a pleasure in this, our pages on the desk,
lying there together, glowing warmly, edges
aligned . . . "

~ from "Papers" (26)

for holiday dinners and delicious desserts:

" . . . the Persian eggplant
with tomato and yogurt sauce.

Anticipating your smile, your kiss,
I fill ramekins with whole wheat memories,
bake for an hour and melt dreams in a sweet topping.

I cut a thick slice of evening
and serve it fresh and steaming before you
on a dark blue plate with glazed yellow stars."

~ from "Thanksgiving" (27)

for synaesthesia:

"In your absence I swoon, overcome with synaesthesia,
my fingertips hearing the aroma of the yellow, a scent
of desire, I sniff the red grapes and hear their smoothness . . . "

~ from "Psychosomatic" (28)

for art appreciation:

" . . . just that perspective, all brown toned, pencil,
sepia ink, thousands of wavy lines as the wind
blow through the dry field, the undulations . . ."

~ from "Sun and Wheatfields" (30)

for practicing yoga, even if your mind wanders:

"I am instructed to count, to think
only inhale, only exhale, but my thoughts
sink and rise and search you out . . . "

~ from "Yoga Practice" (33)

for watching the geese fly overhead, like a prayer:

"I hear their foreign phrases
before their milling
gray black figures emerge
emerge from the mist, davening,
a minyan dutifully
gathering to say Kaddish."

~ from "Familiar" (46)

for grieving the death of pet:

"So I knew you would understand that when my sheltie died,
my first dog though I am so ancient, I knew you would not laugh
to know I recited the mourner's Kaddish, though he wasn't
strictly speaking Jewish; still he loved challah and leaped
ecstatically every time he heard the blessing over the bread.

~ from Grieving (54)

And, most importantly:

"This part of the day is to soothe
and calm, to wring out any unpleasant thoughts
to strain out the nightmares through the
holes in the black and blue sky.

That is why each night we have evening.
Unhappy extremes of day or night are wiped
clean . . ."

~ from "Why We Have Evening" (66)

TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Publisher Cherry Grove Collections
2012, 90 pp., $18.00

Looking for a book to read on a cold dark night when the light of day is hours away? This is it. Looking for some poems to read in the bleak midwinter when the vernal equinox is weeks away? These are they. When a loved one has gone never to return, or you yourself are never coming back. That's the time to read these poems because, as the poet says, Timing is Everything.

A time to be born, a time to die:

"When they approach dying in their mountain fastnesses
the exiles from Tibet have shamans reading urgently,
from long, loose woodblock printed pages, passages
urging the soul not to cling to the useless body, to
give it up, to accept the next phase, the new life. . . . "

~ from "Stubborn Soul" (13)

A time to embrace:

" . . . we turn
over and over in the rain, trying to keep the other dry,
trying to keep the other out of the mud,
trying to breathe deep into the lungs of the other.
How I love you! How I miss you!"

~ from "Cold Outing" (16 - 17)

"We leave only our tiny shadows . . . and jump
into some better other dimension where
everything is the way it should have been,
where there is no Bush administration and
President Gore stopped global warming,
and of course there was no war in Iraq
and everyone likes us. In that we new dimension
we are together every day, we spoon together
every night, not remembering that trillionth of
a trillionth of a second after Big Bang,
our expansion outward, our luminous
numinous bliss."

~ from "They Are Firing Up the Large Hadron Collider" (31 - 32)

A time to refrain from embracing? No! Please, no, not that:

" . . . O love, my teeth rattle with ululations;
how did it happen we are not together tonight?"

~ from "Empty" (70)

"I am the Mummy waiting for
someone to soak those dry leaves so I can
at long last embrace you again after these
twenty - five centuries we have been separated."

~ from "How I've Adjusted" (75 - 76)

The title poem, occurring second to last in the book, warns the reader of leaving things too late. Despite what we've been taught all of our lives, there will not always be time:

"You send note after note after note: Come to me, Love!
I'm ready now!
. . .
. . . Then you learn
I died a decade or two earlier and you didn't
even realize, you heard nothing, your heart
didn't pick it up through the ether. . . . "

~ from "Timing is Everything" (86)

A FLOATING WOMAN
by Leonard Orr
Publisher: Cherry Grove Collections
2015, 92 pp., $18.00

If you would like to be transported by loveliness for an hour or so, might I suggest sitting down with a copy of Leonard Orr's third book of poetry A Floating Woman and listening to Brahms' Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 -- you can actually do both at the same time (click here to enjoy the Quintet in the privacy of your own home).

I made the connection quite by coincidence a few days ago when I set aside my reading at the behest of my friend Katie to attend a concert of chamber music. Browsing through the program, I came across the following description of the clarinet quintet:
"The work as a whole possesses a unique collection of affects. It is an oversimplification to describe it as melancholy and autumnal, although this is part of the truth; in fact, there is a great depth of sadness in the piece, which may not be felt in every bar but is never far from the surface. At the same time, though, the music is constantly energized by rhapsodic, wild gestures and flickering textures; our tragic hero, if there is one, is driven to wander restlessly, not stay at home."
~ Misha Amory
Had the music reviewer been reading Orr's poetry? It seemed so! Just think "book" instead of "piece," "line" instead of "bar," "poem" instead of "music." I spent the remainder of the concert drifting back and forth in my mind from the sometimes keening, sometimes joyful clairnet to various poetic passages from Floating:

" . . . I swayed
rhythmically forward and back,
though I hummed a tune that seemed
given into my throat from the sun.
Telephone lines above were mandolin strings
I plucked and strummed to reach you
where you were, hemidemisemiquavers
rapidly expressing my Sehnsuch, the notes
floating out over the river where gulls
swooped in to grab them. . . . "

~ from "Rapture" (36)

The poems in this collection follow the mysterious trajectory of a narrator and an elusive lover who float through air, water, dreams, space; appear in photographs and manuscripts; travel highways and byways both real and surreal; wandering at last through your own backyard or perhaps drifting in a nearby marina:

"Perhaps all of this time you have been nearby
in one of those graceful white boats tied to a pier
in what had been our river. The white
sails are furled but can quickly be set
for the winds to take you away. The
anchor can be lifted in minutes, the lines
cast away, should you want a new episode.
The lights of the boats in the river are
festive, the bounce in the tide
matches your heartbeat. You are
here and not here. You are attached
so tentatively you think you are free."

~ from "A Floating Woman" (83)

See More:

Poems: "Past Tense, Future Tense" ~ "Yiddish for Travellers"
"The Loop" ~ "Desperate Times" ~ "Optimist" ~
"Sun and Wheatfields" & "Russian Olives" ~ "Monet's The Magpie"

Links to various paintings by Leonard Orr

Christopher J. Jarmick's review of Why We Have Evening

Facebook commentary and response

And Thanks To Katie!

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