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Gregory Orr buzzes back into the Hive to talk with Dion O’Reilly about his newest book, Selected Books of the Beloved. We talk about John Keats’s “Lines Supposed to Be Addressed to Fanny Braun,” the difference between epic and lyric poetry, and the dangers of the false Beloved.
Gregory Orr was born February 3, 1947 in Albany, New York. He grew up in the rural Hudson Valley. At the age of twelve, he was responsible for the death of a younger brother in a hunting accident, an event that powerfully influenced his ideas about trauma, silence and poetry. When he was fourteen, his family moved to Haiti, where his father worked as a doctor at the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles. The family returned to the States a year later, after his mother’s sudden death. In 1965, at the age of eighteen, he worked as a civil rights volunteer in Mississippi. During that time, he was kidnapped at gunpoint in rural Alabama and held for a week in solitary confinement in the town of Hayneville. These events of his youth form the basis of his memoir, The Blessing, which tells the story of his childhood and how he came to poetry.
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.”