The Blessing

Orr, Gregory. The Blessing: a Memoir. San Francisco: Council Oaks Books, 2002.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. Gregory Orr is known for his fantastic poetry.

This is Gregory Orr’s painful memoir of not only the terrible moment when he shot his brother to death in a hunting accident, but the uncharacteristic way he and his family, tight lipped and stoic, dealt with the pain. Only one week after the tragedy the Orr children were back in school as if nothing happened. Gregory was in the seventh grade at this point. When Orr’s father uprooted the family and took them to Haiti, Gregory, as an adult, is able to look back at the episode and as delve briefly into Haiti’s turbulent political history and conflicting cultures (a mention of Castro and Papa Doc Duvalier) as a perfect comparison to his own family’s unsettled time. It is unbelievable, but even more tragedy followed the Orr family after arriving in Haiti. Once in full adulthood, Orr tries to make sense of his past and his responses to all of its shocking heartache. For example – when his mother died, none of her children were invited to the funeral. Father, a man Gregory once worshiped and wanted all to himself, is later described as having “not a nurturing bone in his body.” What father gives bottles of amphetamines as going away presents to his son while he carrying on a relationship with a girl barely older than Gregory? All of this sounds like a book unbearable to read. It is not. In the end, Gregory is able to find his way through the maze of mixed emotions and come out with the determination to become an accomplished poet.

Lines to ponder, “We were grateful to let something so mysterious and disturbing pass out of memory” (p 85), “Violent trauma shreds the web of meaning” (p 134), and “Poems are discrete artifacts of language that prove someone’s imagination and linguistic gifts have triumphed over disorder in a definitive, shaped way” (p 144-145).

Playlist: “Ti Oiseau,” “Greensleeves,”Somnambule Ballad,” “Keep Your Eye on the Prize,” “Aint Gonna Study War No More,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Birmingham Jail,” “We Belong to a Mutual Admiration Society (My Baby and Me),” “We shall Overcome.” Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan.

To look up: To Die in Madrid: a documentary on the Spanish Civil War and the sculptor, David Smith.

Author fact: Orr also wrote The Caged Owl which is also on my Challenge list. It will be interesting to read the poetry now that I’ve read the memoir. Will I see hints of Orr’s personal life in his lines of poems?

Book trivia: There are no photographs in Orr’s memoir.

Nancy said: Pearl included The Blessing in her list of “beautiful and moving memoirs by poets.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Prose By Poets” (p 194).