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Poetry as Survival Paperback – October 29, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Life of Poetry: Poets on Their Art and Craft
  • Paperback: 242 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (October 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820324280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820324289
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #174,143 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Theresa Williams on December 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is worth its weight in gold. It is worth more than all the self-help-how-to-write-poetry books put together.

Orr writes of the poetry of survival with complete authority. He knows what he's talking about, having suffered a psychic wound early in childhood when he accidentally killed his little brother in a hunting accident. Orr writes: "To say that I was horrified and traumatized by the event is only to state the obvious." The point, says Orr, is that his writing got him beyond the horror and the paralysis.

What sets this book apart from the "how-to's" and the "can-do's" is Orr's emphasis on excellence: In other words, it isn't enough to have a psychic wound and to write about it--great writing comes about only through a careful and (usually) long apprenticeship.

The first half of the book explains the psychology of writing and healing. Orr's writing is thoughtful and engaging. He has the ability to explain complex concepts in a way that is easy for the reader to understand. For instance, in explaining the "self," Orr writes: "The self, in my image, is like a tiny island in a vast sea of chaos, and it's also like those conch shells you lift to your ear to hear the ocean's roar: the chaos of the sea is inside the self also." Throughout, Orr seeks to explain how writing can give order to the seemingly chaotic life.

The second half of the book deals with writers of the personal lyric, focusing on early practitioners like Blake, Wordsworth, and Whitman. In addition, in his thoroughly engaging way, Orr writes of several poets as being his "heroes." In doing so, amazingly, he humanizes them, makes them real people rather than the marble statues they seem to be in poetry anthologies.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Just when you're feeling hopeless, "Poetry as Survival" is there for the opening, where Orr's compassionate understanding reafirms again & again, your life matters, writing matters, and eventually the courage returns to keep working on the manuscript, even if I'm 67 & have been working on it for over 20 years. Then the realization. . .on page 87, I'd underlined (in part) "speaking of something will cause hurt to people we care about,"--same thought/feeling of traumatization. . .just knowing this helps. I'm so thankful I can turn to this book for guidance.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Marie R. Kane on January 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Gregory Orr's thorough commentary about and understanding of why and how poets' write is a must read for all writers.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Onoolia Feester on March 24, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Want to read it all the time. Don't want it to end. Will start back at the beginning when done.
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