"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."
"Here is a wide ranging effort to connect poets and their work to the everyday life we all try in our various ways to understand. Gregory Orr brings much wisdom to his lyrical writing, his storytelling. The result is a valuable book, indeed, one that will both inform and inspire its readers and remind us that what has been said by others and what we say to ourselves in our thinking can make a big difference in life—help us figure out its direction, its purpose."
"These days it seems the lyric impulse, so seemingly fragile, comes in for a lot of abuse—or simply a lot of mistrust. What's it for, anyway, in this hard-edged, worried world? Into this cultural uncertainty Gregory Orr's spirited meditation on the surprisingly tensile strength of poetry in the face of profound suffering and grief presents a welcome fresh view of the ancient human instinct to cry out and to praise."
"Poetry as Survival is a seminal work on how art can relate to our emotional lives—and how this perspective can affect the art we make."
—Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness
"In a visceral and inspiring manner, Orr feels (and reports on) his valuing of poetry, particularly the personal lyric, as a saving force in one's life."
—American Poetry Review
"Orr presents to his readers wise counsel offering a path through poetry toward survival and healing."
—Valparaiso Poetry Review
"Many of Orr's clear and inspiring chapters seem meant not only as poetry criticism, but also as encouragement for poetry students or other beginning writers."
"Well-researched and fluidly written."
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.
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