Biography of Gregory Orr
The author of more than 10 collections of poetry and several volumes of essays, criticism, and memoir, Gregory Orr is a master of the short, personal lyric. His poetry has been widely anthologized and translated into at least 10 languages. Observes critic Hank Lazer, “From Burning the Empty Nests (1973) to the present, Orr gradually developed the ability to fuse his incredible skill at visual precision—the signature of his image-based work in his very first book—with an insistent musical quality, joining visual precision with a beauty of sound.”
When Orr was 12, he accidentally killed his brother in a hunting accident, an event his family was never able to talk about. His mother died soon thereafter, and Orr found in poetry the transformative power of language. His near-death experience as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the civil rights movement, in which he was jailed and severely beaten, contributes to the urgency with which his poems seek transformation. In an NPR story on his craft, Orr states, “I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions, and traumatic events that come with being alive.”
Orr has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. He has also been a Fulbright Scholar and a Rockefeller Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Culture and Violence, and he received the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. City of Salt (1995) was a finalist for the LA Times Book Award for Poetry.
Orr received his B.A. from Antioch College and his MFA from Columbia University. He founded the MFA program at the University of Virginia in 1975, and was the poetry editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review from 1978 to 2003.
Gregory Orr Poems
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.
This Is What Was Bequeathed Us
This is what was bequeathed us: This earth the beloved left And, leaving, Left to us.
A House Just Like His Mother's
A house just like his mother's, But made of words. Everything he could remember
Yesterday, against admonishment, my daughter balanced on the couch back, fell and cut her mouth.
Untitled [I know now the beloved]
I know now the beloved Has no fixed abode, That each body She inhabits
The World Seems…
The world seems so palpable And dense: people and things And the landscapes They inhabit or move through.
Hunkered down, nerve-numb, in the carnal hut, the cave of self, while outside a storm rages.
Self-Portrait at Twenty
I stood inside myself like a dead tree or a tower. I pulled the rope of braided hair
I felt both pleasure and a shiver as we undressed on the slippery bank and then plunged into the wild river.
Snapping turtles in the pond eat bass, sunfish, and frogs. They do us no harm when we swim. But early this spring two Canada geese lingered, then built a nest. What I'd
On a Highway East of Selma, Alabama
July 1965 As the sheriff remarked: I had no business being there. He was right, but for the wrong reasons. Among that odd crew of volunteers from the North, I was by far the most inept and least effective. I couldn't have inspired or assisted a woodchuck to vote.
Gathering the Bones Together
for Peter Orr When all the rooms of the house fill with smoke, it's not enough
Here's a seed. Food for a week. Cow skull in the pasture; back room where the brain was:
After our march from the Hudson to the top of Cemetery Hill, we Boy Scouts proudly endured the sermons and hot sun while Girl Scouts
Snapping turtles in the pond eat bass, sunfish,
and frogs. They do us no harm when we swim.
But early this spring two Canada geese
lingered, then built a nest. What I'd
heard of, our neighbor feared: goslings,
as they paddle about, grabbed from below
by a snapper, pulled down to drown.
So he stuck
hunks of fat on huge, wire-leadered hooks