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Gregory Orr

Gregory Orr

Gregory Orr is the author of twelve collections of poetry, including the forthcomng River Inside the River (Norton, 2013); a widely-read study of lyric poetry and personal survival, Poetry as Survival (University of Georgia Press); and a memoir, The Blessing. His essay on revisiting the rural jail where he was imprisoned in the sumer of 1965, when he worked as a volunteer in the Civil Rights Movement, "Return to Haynesville," was republished in all three annual anthologies of best non-fiction of 2009 (Best Essays of 2009, Best Creative Non-fiction of 2009, and Pushcart Prize). The recipient of an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two National Endowment of the Arts fellowships, he has taught at the University of Virginia since 1975, where he was founder and first director of its M.F.A. Program in Writing. He lives with his wife, the painter Trisha Orr, in Charlottesville.

from "River Inside The River" (a Lyric Sequence)

Set beside the world's
Vast sufferings,
Our loss was small.

We know that.
And yet, for us,
It altered everything.

Taught us "much"
Is no measure.
Taught us depth is all.

When the coffin closed at last,
When flames consumed it,
Your eyes were useless—

What tears could put out
That fire?
         And so, you shut them.
So, you let the lids of your eyes
Close over the beloved's body.

For a while now—darkness.

And what you see will be inside you.

Sorrow is good;
Tears are good.
But too much
Grief erodes.

What if all
The soft soil
Washes away
And only hard
Furrows remain?

Then what?

Then what can grow in us?

Hardening the heart
In order
To survive,

Becoming the stone
Whose blossom
Opens inward,

Or the mountaintop
Pine bowed
By a ceaseless wind—

All his joy kept inside,
As if holding her breath
An entire lifetime.

Note to self: remember     
What Emerson said
Of Thoreau—
That he loved the low
In nature:
And crickets, suckers
And frogs.
                  Not stars.

Songs of the carnal,
Songs of what we are.

Not to lead us away
From the world
But deeper into it—
To persuade us
She is it.

Not all of it, not
But some one thing
We love—

Isn't that what he's become?

more from "River Inside The River" (a Lyric Sequence)

Knowing life grinds us,
And dust
Is what we'll become.

Sensing, likewise,
That the moral
Of our story
Has to do
With being mortal.

Yet love grounds us.

And the beloved
Grows in us:
We are her slow cocoon.

And the poem is a door;
The song, a little window.

Like fireflies hovering
Around a summer oak,
Words crowd around
The beloved—
Respectful, yet eager.

They sense her infinite
Possibility; they're drawn
To his heart, large as a star.

Only some will be summoned,
Only some will be sung.

The beloved came,
Then vanished.
Nothing beautiful stays.

Nothing beautiful
Stays the same;
Everything changes,
Dances away.

We've only
This moment
To bless him
And send him on his way.

Quick, with our lips
We form our kiss:
A poem is what they say.

Most poems
From mouth
And tongue,
This one
From teeth:
Playful nip
On your thigh.

Hours later,
It still hurts;
Next day,
A bruise,
To the touch.

You rub it
You think of her.

"Why not a brief respite?"
I plead with the beloved.

"Bad idea," she insists:
"There's a world out there
you need to see, to be."

"But I'm tired," I whine.

"Sorry," the beloved
Responds, "you'll rest
When you're done.
Meanwhile, there's a word
In here (he's pointing
Toward his heart)
You need to become."


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