Bob Orr is a poet. His significant participation in the poetry developments of the 1970s and 1980s, combined with a reserved output of quality published work has cemented his reputation. His first book length collection was published in 1971, and his writing has been published in further collections, journals and anthologies. Valparaiso was published in 2002, and is a volume of poetry that evokes the mystery and wonder of the Pacific.
FROM THE oxford companion TO new zealand literature
Orr, Bob (1949– ), was one of the poets most centrally associated with Freed and The Young New Zealand Poets and has continued to produce a small body of carefully crafted verse. He has also published in Islands and Landfall and is represented in the Penguin (1985), Caxton (1987) and 1997 OUP anthologies. His first volumes, Blue Footpaths (1971) and Poems for Moira (Hawk Press, 1979), showed a precocious talent for tautly controlled imagistic lyrics, some of intense verbal beauty and force of feeling.
The love poems draw images from the natural world into an emotive synthesis with the passion of the body: ‘Your eyelids / closed estuaries / of dream. / Your hair rained / in the half dark room. / My veins guttered into / blue oceans’ (‘Signatures’). Cargo (1983) continued with the discipline of short vibrant lines, often now distilling beauty from urban or industrial scenes, as in ‘The Black Trawler’, ‘Wellington’, or ‘Parable’ (‘A man in a crane gently moved / a cloud / across the sky’).
Orr’s propensity for effects of colour and light is best seen in the short haiku-like lyrics of Red Trees (1985), strikingly incorporated in paintings by Rodney Fumpston. In Breeze (1991) the tone is more conversational, anecdotal and sometimes nostalgic, though sometimes, too, incantatory (‘Tahiti’, ‘After Reading Albert Camus’), several poems working with the tension between Auckland’s urban and Pacific identities. The poet’s intense and lucid observation still produces memorable images: ‘Summer girls walked shining from the surf’; ‘The tide like / old dark leather scuffed’; ‘Monarch butterflies / on fire / danced by the classroom window’.
Born in Hamilton, Orr has lived in Wellington and Auckland. RR
Author entry from The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature,
edited by Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie (1998).
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As much a place of the imagination as an actual seaport, Valparaiso (2002) evokes the mystery and wonder of the Pacific. it is about lines and distances, passages and destinations, albeit some that may never be reached. Who can cross the ocean of the heart?
Calypso(AUP, 2008) is Orr's follow-up to Valparaiso, taking us travelling through time and across the world in a four-part collection.
(Last updated: December 2009)
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