Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty, Bahar Orang
Book*hug Press, 2020
To read Bahar Orang’s Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty slowly, and without rushing, is to allow yourself the permission to slip into a space that feels intimate and sacred. From beginning to end, Orang offers her reader the ability to consider why beauty is important in our daily lives. She ponders connections between beauty and the notion of what ‘home’ means, but the collection then moves on to consider how the appreciation of beauty is so linked to physical touch, to our own sensory explorations in (and of) the world.
Through these poems, Orang also speaks to how love and beauty often bloom from the tentative and uncertain electric spaces that exist between people, and also to how language conveys the meaning of beauty. A small poem on lavender makes you think about the true worth of something beautiful as the poet writes: “But if I stay with/lavender too long, I start to want it in abundance./Because I recognize each small gathering of lavender as/synecdoche for umpteen fields of lavender” and that “the whole of lavender is just infinite lavender.” So true, to think of how we can find beauty enough in a small sprig of lavender, and not need a whole wide field of it. There is more worth in really noticing the truly distilled beauty of a single sprig than in a blanket of it laid out across a hillside.
An intern in Toronto, Orang began to write this book while she was in medical school, as a student. A number of the prose and lyric poems in the collection focus in on this, too. The poet wonders how she thought she could have imagined finding beauty in a demanding career where it may not be that easy to see in an operating room. Her description of a C-section is vividly described, with “blood flowing, organs and slimy bits/protruding” as the “digging gets harder” and “the surgeon wrestles, hard, with the uterus to/reach baby” while the “blood spills freely.”
A surgeon speaking about a colostomy procedure tells the medical students “Make a hole in the/abdomen, reach for the intestine until it emerges from/the belly, then sew it down onto skin so inside is/continuous with outside.” This is opposite to the beauty found in field of lavender or in the gathering up of a lover’s hand.
Even in a hospital, there is beauty that can be found, and Orang strives to share her “desire to/think about beauty instead of suffering, or rather,/to integrate beauty into reflections on suffering.” As she says, “in any place of suffering there are islands of beauty.” It means, really, being able to know where to look for it, and to be mindful of finding it where you sometimes might least expect to do so. It may even be more potent to find beauty in those places—where you least expect it—than to just come upon it with an expectation of finding it in the more ‘traditional’ places.
Some of the most poignant pieces of poetry in the collection are little definitions of beauty. You’ll find them rippling through the fabric of the book, and each one will strike you intensely, in specific and unique ways. The poet writes: “Is beauty the moment of tension between two or more parts, where friction is sweet, things touch, and the possibility of togetherness slips through the poet’s fingers?” Then, in her exploration of what beauty is, Orang ventures into thinking about other people’s creative work. References to John Berger, Frida Kahlo, E.M. Forster, Mary Oliver, Louise Gluck, Solmaz Sharif, Ocean Vuong, Mary Ruefle, and Rumi—just to name some of the influences—are woven throughout the poetic meditations. This works to create a layering of meaning that invites the reader to make connections to other interpretations of beauty. Artists, thinkers, and writers—it seems—have always been transfixed by what beauty is, and how it works itself into the creative process and then the final work. That so many creatives have found themselves rooted in this lineage is both fascinating and comforting.
When you read Bahar Orang’s Where Things Touch: A Meditation on Beauty, you will want to not rush through it. These pieces are planted in the heart first, so they sort of bloom and grow inside of you as you read them. You’ll begin to think about how beauty connects to poetry, art, language, love, sexuality, and your own mortality. Find a quiet place where you can let the poems sink in and marinate a bit. You won’t regret it.
Kim Fahner lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario. She was poet laureate in Sudbury from 2016-18, and was the first woman appointed to the role. Kim's latest book of poems is These Wings (Pedlar Press, 2019). She's a member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Ontario representative of The Writers' Union of Canada (2020-22), and a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Kim can be reached via her author website at www.kimfahner.com