The Two Survivals

Ars Poetica V (personal lyric, cont.)

Gregory Orr writes:

Survival no. 1

The difference between a lyric poet and a person who does not write poems is that the poet has an arena in which to focus his/her encounter with disorder.

Every encounter with disorder of any sort that results in a poem is a successful encounter in the most basic sense we can mean it: The poet survived.

(If the poet had failed or perished in the attempt, we would not be reading his/her poem). The very fact of the poems existence is proof of its efficacy for survival.


Sharon Lockhart, Untitled, 2007

Survival no. 2

The initial personal triumph of the poet, is followed by the extension of the poem into a larger social world of readers – where the second survival power is made manifest.

Readers are only “saved” by poems that enter deeply into them, and this happens when sympathetic identification of reader with writer takes place.

When the poem succeeds in incorporating disorder without disintegrating into chaos or silence, I, the reader, am given both courage and hope.

(It is important to stress that Orr is not here talking about “great” poems, poems we are told to admire – but about the poems that mean something to us on a deeply personal level).

A few words on sympathy from Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759):

Sympathy is the bridge of imagination that connects up separate embodied selves and thus is the basis of all morality.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. So now I do have to give in and buy the book.

    1. Sigrun says:

      ha-ha; I don’t think you will regret it!

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