Poetry as Survival

Gregory Orr

How lyric poetry transforms trauma


"Written with marvelous lucidity and grace, Poetry as Survival moves with extraordinary sophistication across a vast body of material, offering insightful discussions of poems from around the world and from all ages."
—Sandra M. Gilbert

"Gregory Orr's thesis is the transcendent power of personal lyric poetry, its balm, and, far more than that, its ability to enable persons who have undergone trauma to fortify and in a sense to re-create themselves by speaking out through the exactitude and dignity of poetry. This is an utterly simplified sentence about an extremely complicated universal process—extraordinary and yet not hard to follow in Orr's clear writing, which is fortified by a wondrous collection of examples and quotations—almost, I want to say, witnessings. Poetry as Survival is a thoughtful, elegant, and important book."
—Mary Oliver

More / Hide


Intended for general readers and for students and scholars of poetry, Poetry as Survival is a complex and lucid analysis of the powerful role poetry can play in confronting, surviving, and transcending pain and suffering.

Gregory Orr draws from a generous array of sources. He weaves discussions of work by Keats, Dickinson, and Whitman with quotes from three-thousand-year-old Egyptian poems, Inuit songs, and Japanese love poems to show that writing personal lyric has helped poets throughout history to process emotional and experiential turmoil, from individual stress to collective grief. More specifically, he considers how the acts of writing, reading, and listening to lyric bring ordering powers to the chaos that surrounds us. Moving into more contemporary work, Orr looks at the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Stanley Kunitz, and Theodore Roethke, poets who relied on their own work to get through painful psychological experiences.

As a poet who has experienced considerable trauma—especially as a child—Orr refers to the damaging experiences of his past and to the role poetry played in his ability to recover and survive. His personal narrative makes all the more poignant and vivid Orr's claims for lyric poetry's power as a tool for healing. Poetry as Survival is a memorable and inspiring introduction to lyric poetry's capacity to help us find safety and comfort in a threatening world.

Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft

Page count: 248 pp.
Trim size: 5.5 x 8.25


List price: $25.95

buy button
View Shopping Cart

List price: $19.95
Check ebook availability

Gregory Orr is the author of such highly praised poetry collections as Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved and The Caged Owl as well as a memoir, The Blessing, which was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the fifty best nonfiction books of 2002. He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship, and two poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2003 he was presented with the Award in Literature by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Orr is a professor of English at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1975 and where he was the founder and first director of its MFA in Writing program.