Skip to main content

Ode to Left-Handedness

In honor of National Poetry Month, Lifetime Learning is featuring poems written by esteemed faculty all month long. The third poem in this series, entitled “Ode to Left-Handedness,” is written by Gregory Orr, Professor of English at the University of Virginia and author of twelve collections of poetry, including River Inside the River (W.W.Norton, 2013) and A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry (W.W.Norton, summer 2017). Mr. Orr says this about his poem:

Photo by Trisha Orr
Photo by Trisha Orr

“This is a poem from a new manuscript I’ve just completed. It amuses me as a 70 year old poet to set a poem so far back in memory that it has me sitting at my kindergarten desk encountering my first scissors assignment. Of course, this situation (or something like it) is surprisingly familiar to other people born left-handed: that moment when the world reveals to you that it was designed by and for right-handed people. And being left-handed (though you don’t realize this yet, being only about 5 years old) is going to put you always at an odd angle to the world, always (or often) at a little disadvantage. The tools of the world (starting with those silly scissors) are biased to the right. It’s not that you can’t use them at all, but you might do so ineptly, feeling clumsy, feeling like a klutz. And the shame that comes from that. It does actually enter your consciousness and can become an uneasy part of your sense of bodily self (ask your left-handed friends). In this poem, I wanted to go back and “rewrite the scenario”– wanted that little kid I was to see this minor humiliation as really a first glimpse of radical freedom– that to be “different” (even in what might seem a minor way) is to invited to take a different path and embrace that path and all it might bring. By investing those scissors with a life of their own (a bird with silver wings– with an autnomous life more powerful than my own, anxious “will to control”), I ended up celebrating my scissors’ zig-zag flight through the colored paper sky, a flight that could guide my own journey toward something authentic, something true to who I was or am.”


Ode to Left-Handedness

I sat at my kindergarten desk,
Surrounded by others,
Either cheerful
Or bored, who were
The requisite circles
With ease,
Or slicing down
Straight, penciled lines
As the teacher directed.

I did my dutiful best,
But the scissors
Hurt my fingers
In a minor,
Distracting way,
And I was too young
To realize the handle
Was biased
For a right-hand child,
So all I could do
Was cut in clumsy zigzags
And feel like a fool.

Staring hard at the blades,
I tried to will them
To obey,
Who couldn’t conceive
I was being freed
That day
By those little silver wings
Of a bird
Intent on the erratic,
Authentic pattern
Of its own flight
Through a sky of colored paper.

Left Hand