Gregory Orr’s genius is the transformation of trauma into art. Whether writing about his responsibility for a brother’s death during a hunting accident, drug addiction, or being jailed during the Civil Rights struggle, lyricism erupts in the midst of desolation and violence. Orr’s spare, succinct poems distill myth from the domestic and display a richness of action and visual detail.
This long-awaited collection is soulful work from a remarkable poet, whose poems have been described as "mystical, carnal, reflective, and wry." (San Francisco Review)
A black biplane crashes through the window
of the luncheonette. The pilot climbs down,
removing his leather hood.
He hands me my grandmother’s jade ring.
No, it is two robin’s eggs and
a telephone number: yours.
from "Gathering the Bones Together"
A father and his four sons
run down a slope toward
a deer they just killed.
the father and two sons carry
rifles. They laugh, jostle,
and chatter together.
A gun goes off
and the youngest brother
falls to the ground.
A boy with a rifle
stands beside him,
"Orr’s is an immaculate style of latent violence and inhibited tenderness, charged with a desperate intensity whose source is often obscure."--The New York Times Book Review
Gregory Orr is the author of seven volumes of poetry and three books of criticism. He is the editor at Virginia Quarterly Review, teaches at the University of Virginia, and lives with his wife and daughters in Charlottesville. In 2002, along with his selected poems The Caged Owl, he will also publish a memoir and a book about poetry writing: Three Strange Angels: Trauma and Transformation in Lyric Poetry.
Also Available by Gregory Orr:
Orpheus & Eurydice: A Lyric Sequence
The constraints of personal narrative are stretched to their limits in this summation from Orr, an editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review and professor of creative writing at the University of Virginia, as his poems are often based on tragic experiences occurring to those close to him. Orr's archetypal subject in the new poems and selections from six previous collections (including City of Salt and We Must Make a Kingdom of It) is fratricide. As a child, Orr accidentally shot and killed his young brother in a hunting accident. In "Gathering the Bones Together," his speaker describes the experience in a trademark clenched, almost self-flagellatingly declarative style: "I was twelve when I killed him;/ I felt my own bones wrench from my body." "A Litany" returns to the subject: "I remember him falling beside me,/ the dark stain already seeping across his parka hood/ I remember screaming and running the half mile to our house." And the experience is echoed by the poet's agonized critique, "To My Father, Dying": "Where is your scorn now?/ Where your jaggedness,/ old antagonist?... Your handsome face/ gone slack..." For Orr, even a young daughter's bloodying herself seems fair game for a poem, as when, "against admonishment,/ my daughter balanced on the couch back, fell and cut her mouth." There are some attempts at relieving the gloom, as in "Best" "To live and love is best" or "A Shelf Is a Ledge," where a volume of Darwin "screams in the dark: Survive! Survive!" Still, the threnody of titles here, like "Song of the Invisible Corpse in the Field" and "Song: Early Death of the Mother," makes for a consistently mournful stance that, perhaps purposefully, does not advance linguistically or emotionally.