Poetry as Survival / Edition 1

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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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Poet Gregory Orr (The Caged Owl) takes an altogether more personal, more speculative, tack in his first book of prose, Poetry as Survival. Orr, who teaches at the University of Virginia, begins by suggesting that "culture evolved the personal lyric as a means of helping individuals survive existential crises": "the personal lyric," he writes, "clings to embodied being." Orr traces that being through a series of essays on Wordsworth, Dickinson, Hardy, the Holocaust, Akhmatova, Amichai, anthropology, medicine and other major authors and subjects. 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.
Library Journal
An astounding memoir saturated with themes of death, shame, and guilt, The Blessing focuses on the six years in Orr's life that most affected him and his evolution as a poet. From the earliest chapters, which detail the author's 12th year and the events leading to his accidental shooting of his younger brother, to his later search for meaning and his participation in the Civil Rights Movement, Orr's psychological and emotional honesty is moving. It is his realization that art can be immortal that compels him to reach out of his misery-induced isolation to connect with the world and find meaning. Poetry as Survival reiterates the themes of Orr's memoir on a less personal and more scholarly level. Here he explores the function of poetry as a method for transcending pain and creating order out of the chaos of life. The scope of the discussion of poetry, with analysis of the works of Keats, Dickinson, and Whitman as well as ancient Egyptian poems and Inuit songs, is broad and is peppered with psychological theory. Well researched and fluidly written, this work may prove difficult for the casual reader but is essential for all academic collections. The Blessing is highly recommended for all libraries.-Paolina Taglienti, New York Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

"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 wonderous collection of examples and quotations—almost, I want to say, witnessings. Poetry as Survival is a thoughtful, elegant, and important book."--Mary Oliver

"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."--Robert Coles

"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."--Patricia Hampl

"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."--Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820324289
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 11/18/2002
  • Series: The Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 242
  • Sales rank: 1,016,136
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

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.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Everywhere and Always 1
Pt. 1 The Self, Jeopardy, and Song
1 Poised on a Mountain Peak, Floating on the Ocean 13
2 The Dinner Party and the Sailor at War 24
3 The Embodied Self 37
4 The Edge as Threshold 51
5 Bags Full of Havoc 59
6 The Two Survivals 83
7 The Powers of Poetry 93
Pt. 2 Trauma and Transformation
8 The Dangerous Angel 117
9 Convulsive Transformation of the Overculture 133
10 Wordsworth and the Permanent Forms 141
11 Keats and the Ardor of the Pursuer 149
12 Whitman and the Habit of Dazzle 159
13 Dickinson and the Brain's Haunted Corridors 171
14 Wilfred Owen and the Horrors of War 182
15 The Quest and the Dangerous Path 189
16 Constellations and Medicine Pouches 204
App. A Sacred and Secular Lyric 209
App. B The Social Lyric and the Personal Lyric 213
App. C Incarnating Eros 225
Index 231
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2013

    Poetry as Survival Highly Recommended

    In Poetry as Survival, Gregory Orr explores three facets of the lyric poem: its story, its metaphors, and its incantatory devices. He demonstrates how these are used by poets and their readers to promote emotional balance or healing during and after destabilizing situations. In the second half of the book, Orr gives examples of ways in which these aspects of the lyric affected the life and work of 10 well-known English-language poets including Wordsworth, Keats, Dickinson, and Whitman. A well thought out thesis presented in a clear, engaging text, this is the second book I have read in a series from the U. of Georgia called The Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft. The other, Poetry as Persuasion, by Carl Dennis, proposes that every poem has an actual or implied narrator who must be carefully developed if the reader is to accept the poem. Both books have been very useful to me in both my writing and my reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    "Poetry as Survival" is resoundingly provocative and therapeutic.

    Gregory Orr reports that it was a horrible trauma in his childhood that led to his becoming a professor of poetry. After he tried several traditional therapies unsuccessfully, he encountered a librarian who also taught poetry writing. After Gregory tried writing his first poem, he found its benefit to be immediate and gratifying. Since then, he apparently found that writing poems also helps other people often to reconcile themselves with their anxieties and difficulties, including traumas. "Poetry as Survival" describes how this may be done.

    Orr's concern is not with poetic formats or structures, but how poems can help us to cope intimately with Life. Our minds conjure order by conceiving stories, and this faculty is valuable when we are traumatized because whatever sense our minds can conjure is comforting. Mr. Orr suggests that simply naming our monsters is an incantation that mollifies some of its terrors. I inferred from Mr. Orr how I might see blessedness if I'm ever splattered by blood, or see three visiting angels in my tribulations, or a pool of creation in chaos. I hope to avoid trauma, but I am glad to have read "Poetry as Survival" before any can come. Until then, I am still grateful to Mr. Orr because his book is currently helping me better cope with my mundane troubles.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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