THE CAGED OWL: New and Selected Poems

Gregory Orr, Author . Copper Canyon $16 (235p) ISBN 978-1-55659-177-8

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. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-1-61932-063-5
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