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When acclaimed poet Gregory Orr was twelve years old, he shot and killed his brother in a hunting accident. From the immediate aftermath—a period of shock, sadness, and isolation—it quickly became clear that support and guidance would not be coming from his distant mother. Nor would it come from his father, a philandering country doctor addicted to amphetamines. Left to his own devices, the boy suffered.
Guilt weighed on him throughout a childhood split between the rural Hudson Valley and jungles of Haiti. As a young man, his feelings and a growing sense of idealism prompted him to activism in the civil rights movement, where he marched and was imprisoned, and then scarred again by a terrifying abduction. Eventually, Orr’s experiences led him to understand that art, particularly poetry, could work as a powerful source of healing and meaning to combat the trauma he carried.
Throughout The Blessing, Orr articulates his journey in language as lyrical as it is authentic, gifting us all with a singular tale of survival, and of the transformation of suffering into art.
Orr's gripping chronicle of his troubled boyhood is alternately self-conscious, moving and revelatory. When he was a boy growing up in New York's Hudson River valley, Gregory accidentally shot and killed his younger brother Peter during a hunting excursion with their father, a philandering, amphetamine-addicted country doctor. Now in his fifties, Orr examines the corrosive effect of that loss on his parents' marriage, the divine purpose of such loss, his destiny and the reason for his own survival amid a series of misadventures, which include the family's sudden relocation to rural Haiti and Orr's harrowing participation in civil rights activities in Mississippi in 1965. Upon Orr's return from the Deep South, where he was imprisoned by local authorities, his high school English teacher took him for a walk through the David Smith fields near Lake George. Smith, the great American sculptor who had just died in a car accident, filled the fields in Bolton Landing, N.Y., with gigantic metal sculptures. Orr saw in them images of his own "martyr's cross... alchemized and shining, metamorphosed... into a hundred expressive shapes.... Here was my blessing." And there, a writer was born. Orr's understanding of the tragic events of his life through the prism of art allows him to find serenity and stability (a well-published poet, Orr currently edits the Virginia Quarterly Review). One can only wonder what the next installment of Orr's life will look like on paper, for this one never fails to entertain, mystify and surprise.