The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Literature from Mexico City

Poetry Review

River Inside the River

by Gregory Orr

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.


     November 2014

     ISBN 978-0-393-34995-5

5.5 × 8.2 in / 128 pages


Poetry Review by Don Cellini (USA)

Published in The Ofi Press issue 43

This collection by US poet Gregory Orr is his 12th and most recent.  It is comprised of three poetic sequences.  In the first, “Eden and After” he retells, in his characteristic, lean poetic style, the story of Adam and Eve.  In the poem describing the exile from the Garden, Orr says of the birds

To fly

Seldom occurred to them

But when they heard

God’s shout,

Huge flocks lifted

From the trees as one –

As if half the leaves

In Paradise had come undone.


Yet Adam and Eve find themselves outside the garden and learn to survive there in “A world inside the world.”


In the second sequence, “City of Poetry,” Orr writes “every poem is a house, and every house a poem.”  This section links to the previous one with reference to Adam and Eve as having made the first human city.  But there are lots of poets here, too.


Blake’s cottage easy

To recognize

By the angels dancing

All day on the roof…


There’s an orchid boat

Moored in the canal

Outback of Li Po’s…


Dickenson’s has two large

Windows on the second floor:

Staring, startled, intelligent eyes.


In this city, every emotion is expressed, and it’s not just pretty emotions, but grief and horror as well.  But not every poem looks for a home.


Not all poems seek



Think of those

Lovers’ couplets

That wove tall


Meadow grass

Into an afternoon’s bower.


This city of poems continually transforms itself: new poems, new poets, and the shadows and ghost of old ones.  And this city of poetry is essential for Orr:


I am an old man

Made young again

By the poems I love.


The final poetic sequence builds on the previous two.  Just as Adam and Eve built a life outside of the Garden, just as the city of poetry is essential for the poet’s survival, this final sequence, “River Inside the River” shows the power of language to restore the beloved, to recover a paradise that has been lost.


I want to lure her

To the surface

And catch her

In this net of words.


Through these poems the poet can remember joy and sorrow and promises of the beloved.  How lucky we are as poets, he tells us near the end of the final sequence,


That we might name

And praise

And raise from oblivion’s



All that we most love.


This collection is a wonderful continuation of Orr’s previous work.  It’s a good introduction to those who are coming to him for the first time.  For those who are already fans of his work, it’s essential.