The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems

The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems

by Gregory Orr

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Long-awaited selected poems from a poet who shapes what threatens to misshape him.

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Long-awaited selected poems from a poet who shapes what threatens to misshape him.

Editorial Reviews

Foreword Magazine
Orr's early poetry, generously excerpted here, draws from wounds and losses so deep that they seemed to evade narration: his fleshly and tender lyricism was shot through with violence. "You hold your hands up to the light," he wrote in "Going Out":

The small mirrors of your fingernails
are painted over with blood...
We have a hunger that nothing has
It grows large and rigid.
We stand in it like a room.

His surrealist beginnings strengthened throughout seven books, with dream narratives and imagery from the ominous folktales of childhood as well as from Greek literature mixing, more and more, with details of a lived life. The new poems continue to showcase Orr's gift for imagery and sound, as in "Heart": "Cavity and spasm:/ a spark can start/ it; parting stop it.// Such a radiant husk/ to hive our dust!" But a number of villanelles (what Orr has called, in an interview, "emblem[s] of obsession") indicate a windshift: here, he's writing of paradise, forgiveness, the lightning bolt of immediate, irreversible change. Whether read as an introduction to this poet's intensely beautiful work or as a welcome revisiting, The Caged Owl is an important, an unignorable, collection.
Publishers Weekly
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.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

Copper Canyon Press
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

Some Part of the Lyric

Some part of the lyric wants to exclude
the world with all its chaos and grief
and so conceives shapes (a tear, a globe of dew)

whose cool symmetries create a mood
of security. Which is something all need
and so, the lyric's urge to exclude

what hurts us isn't simply a crude
defense, but an embracing of a few
essential shapes: a tear, a globe of dew.

But to what end? Are there clues
in these forms to deeper mysteries
that no good poem should exclude?

What can a stripped art reveal? Is a nude
more naked than the eye can see?
Can a tear freed of salt be a globe of dew?

And most of all is it something we can use?
Yes, but only as long as its beauty,
like that of a tear or a globe of dew,
reflects the world it meant to exclude.

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