Return to Hayneville

I’m drawn to the mystery of what it is to be a self and how to dramatize that in language. Usually, I write lyric poetry. That is to say, I dramatize heightened states of consciousness in highly-patterned language and with a minimum of action and character development. What I get, when I’m lucky, are the virtues of lyric poetry: compression, a hint or two of how it feels to be a thinking/feeling being—all presented in a single situation with maximum intensity and focus. What I don’t get are things that prose brings: a sense of a person being in time and moving through time—acting and reacting to things and people encountered.

So much of lyric poetry (often for good reasons), wishes to escape or deny time, or at least do its best to suspend it. Prose, on the other hand, is saturated with a sense of time, steeped in the fact that we live our lives in time. When I write prose, I find myself acknowledging truths that elude me in poetry—how one event follows another; how our actions and choices become our destinies; how randomness and chance preside over much of what happens. But I also see how much larger than a single self the world is. When I write poetry, the self, the “I” has to be at the center because a single consciousness is what constellates the language in a lyric. But when I write prose, especially a prose piece like this one, which is so entangled in history and its forces, I see how small an individual self really is. I like that feeling of trying to describe a self in history (my own self in my own history)—testimony of an alert fish swimming in a big river and dimly or acutely aware of the force and flow of it.

About the Author

Gregory Orr

Gregory Orr is the author of ten collections of poetry, the most recent of which is How Beautiful the Beloved (Copper Canyon Press, 2009) and a memoir, The Blessing (Council Oak Books, 2005), which was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the fifty best nonfiction books of 2005.

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