Cover image for Poetry as survival
Poetry as survival
Orr, Gregory.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Athens : University of Georgia Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
vii, 235 pages ; 21 cm.
General Note:
Includes index.
Electronic Access:
Table of contents

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR502 .O77 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



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.

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.