Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry, by Gregory Orr. In the Preface, Orr describes the book as “one poet’s informal exploration of language and self in relation to the impulse to write lyric poetry.” The book includes in-depth analysis of poems through different lenses, as well as prompts and exercises. I found the chapter “Lyric and Narrative: Two Fundamental Ordering Impulses” especially thought-provoking. Orr offers this fundamental distinction between the two:
The narrative poem is searching for something and won’t be happy (complete, unified) until it has found it. By contrast, the lyric poem has a different shape. It constellates around a single center. (p. 82)
Orr goes on to describe the shape a lyric poem as “that of a snowflake or crystal–an intense geometric concentration around a center.”
Isn’t that a wonderful image? As often happens, while searching for one poem, I found another. Although I’ve read and loved “Daybreak” by Galway Kinnell many times, this week I read it with a new appreciation for how Kinnell’s words “constellate around a single center.”
by Galway Kinnell
On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity they sank down
into the mud; they faded down
into it and lay still; and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.
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