Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir

Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir

by Jill Bialosky

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Overview

From a critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author and poet comes “a delightfully hybrid book: part anthology, part critical study, part autobiography” (Chicago Tribune) that is organized around fifty-one remarkable poems by poets such as Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, and Sylvia Plath.

For Jill Bialosky, certain poems stand out like signposts at pivotal moments in a life: the death of a father, adolescence, first love, leaving home, the suicide of a sister, marriage, the birth of a child, the day in New York City the Twin Towers fell. As Bialosky narrates these moments, she illuminates the ways in which particular poems offered insight, compassion, and connection, and shows how poetry can be a blueprint for living. In Poetry Will Save Your Life, Bialosky recalls when she encountered each formative poem, and how its importance and meaning evolved over time, allowing new insights and perceptions to emerge.

While Bialosky’s personal stories animate each poem, they touch on many universal experiences, from the awkwardness of girlhood, to crises of faith and identity, from braving a new life in a foreign city to enduring the loss of a loved one, from becoming a parent to growing creatively as a poet and artist. Each moment and poem illustrate “not only how to read poetry, but also how to love poetry” (Christian Science Monitor).

“An emotional, sometimes-wrenching account of how lines of poetry can be lifelines” (Kirkus Reviews), Poetry Will Save Your Life is an engaging and entirely original examination of a life while celebrating the enduring value of poetry, not as a purely cerebral activity, but as a means of conveying personal experience and as a source of comfort and intimacy. In doing so the book brilliantly illustrates the ways in which poetry can be an integral part of life itself and can, in fact, save your life.

Editorial Reviews

Christian Science Monitor

An intimate discussion not only on how to read poetry, but also on how to love poetry. . . .Bialosky convinces us that poetry is alive and ready to breathe with us—through love, loss, joy, pain and the immensity of experience life brings us.

Mary-Louise Parker

"Jill Bialosky writes with a sincerity that would have made Dickinson herself weep. She fights to keep poetry from being lofty and academic, she takes it out of the clouds and brings down to earth. Having an expert guide you to a subject with the humility and enthusiasm of a beginner is as moving as her prose in which she reminds us that she has also been a woman who needed saving, and poetry swept in and gave her back a pulse. She achieves something remarkable in that it feels as though she is revealing herself for our sake, the readers: basically what all the best poetry strives for."

Meghan O’Rourke

Empathic, wise, humane, and consoling, Jill Bialosky's Poetry Will Save Your Life is an engrossing celebration of poetry for any curious reader. Bialosky tells us about the poems that have kept her company over the years—and along the ways she joyfully illuminates both poetry and life itself.

Hilma Wolitzer (East Hampton Star)

Unusual and affecting. . . . Using 51 poems, ranging broadly from nursery rhymes to a Shakespeare sonnet, [Bialosky] sets out to demonstrate how reading and remembering poetry can provide a kind of salvation. . . . Like the weather and politics, the human condition isn’t altered by poetry, but this lovely memoir poignantly and credibly shows how it can inspire our acceptance of life.

New York Journal of Books

"Time and again she proves her thesis of survival through the arts. But it is not a work of an essayist but one of a person who believes in the power of art to connect us in our shared humanity."

Real Simple

Bialosky, a poet and novelist, sees her life broken up not by years, but through poems. Her moving memoir .... shows how poetry can be a powerful tool for healing and understanding.

Chicago Tribune

A delightfully hybrid book: part anthology, part critical study, part autobiography. . . . candid and canny. . . . Bialosky’s erudite and instructive approach to poetry [is] itself a refreshing tonic.

Daphne Merkin

Poetry Will Save Your Life is a remarkable and compulsively readable book, one that combines the poignant moments of lived life and the reflected life of words in a wholly original way. Jill Bialosky writes with as much pristine skill about her personal story as she writes about the poems that nurtured and inspired her. The intersection of art and life has rarely been so vividly rendered.

Andrew Solomon

This charming and captivating book ties each moment of the author's development to the transformative verses she read. She allows these poems to organize her deliberate candor about a complex and compelling life.

Hope Jahren

This is the only textbook you will ever need on poetry. It tells you not only how to read poetry, but why to read it, lovingly illustrated by portraits from Bialosky’s life so intimate that every passage feels like a private gift, tenderly crafted for the reader’s memory, to be cherished for years to come.

The Washington Post

A lovely hybrid that blends [Bialosky’s] coming-of-age story with engaging literary analysis. . . . Adults and mature teens will find much to love in this book, which demonstrates how poems can become an integral part of life. It also suggests, on every page, the wisdom and deep compassion that make [Bialosky’s book] a tremendous asset both to readers and other writers.”

The Forward

"Should you be looking for proof that poetry is balm for the wounded soul, you’re likely to find it here.

Will Schwalbe

Poetry Will Save Your Life is one of the most moving memoirs I’ve ever read, but it’s so much more. Bialosky does something miraculous: as she shares stories from her life, she shows how specific poems can help all of us make sense of our own lives and the world. Here are classic and contemporary poems that help us see and hear one another more clearly; that speak to us in times of loss and grief; that guide us through our every days. If you’ve always loved poetry, this book will captivate you. And if you want to love poetry, then this book will open worlds. Poetry Will Save Your Life is itself a life-saving book.

East Hampton Star - Hilma Wolitzer

Unusual and affecting...using 51 poems, ranging broadly from nursery rhymes to a Shakespeare sonnet, [Bialosky] sets out to demonstrate how reading and remembering poetry can provide a kind of salvation. . . . Like the weather and politics, the human condition isn’t altered by poetry, but this lovely memoir poignantly and credibly shows how it can inspire our acceptance of life.

Publishers Weekly

★ 05/29/2017
Bialosky (History of a Suicide) weaves 51 poems by several writers into her latest memoir, which beautifully conveys the “mystery and wonder” of poetry. Born in 1950s Cleveland, Bialosky was a toddler when her father died; though she was close with her mother and sisters, she yearned for the “tenderness and love” that she imagined a father would have provided. As she grew older, Bialosky found the tenderness she was longing for in poetry. A bookish, reserved teen, she attended college in Vermont and Ohio and then became an editor in New York (she’s currently an executive editor at Norton), holding fast to her desire to write and live an independent, creative life. As the years pass in her story, Bialosky touches on familiar themes—young love, faith, grief and loss, political issues, sexuality—and intersperses vignettes from her life with the works of Robert Frost, W.H. Auden, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Sharon Olds. Readers will learn about how the “personal and communal” aspects of poetry intertwine for her, and will also discover how poems resonated with the author at specific times in her development (e.g., the loneliness of childhood is recalled in a poem by Rilke; as a new mother, Bialosky finds joy in Sylvia Plath’s “Nick and the Candlestick”). Bialosky also includes some fascinating facts about the poets themselves (Robert Louis Stevenson loved The Arabian Knights; Emily Dickinson saw the publication of only 12 of her 1,800 poems). Bialosky’s memoir is equally an enjoyable learning experience and an intimate rendering of a poet’s passion for words. (Aug.)

Chicago Tribune

A delightfully hybrid book: part anthology, part critical study, part autobiography. . . . candid and canny. . . . Bialosky’s erudite and instructive approach to poetry [is] itself a refreshing tonic.

Library Journal

07/01/2017
Bialosky, who is an executive editor at W.W. Norton publishing and the author of several poetry collections, novels, and the best-selling memoir History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life, has written an examination of her own life through the poems she has loved. Poetry has been her companion through both the good and horrific moments. This book connects Bialosky's most beloved poems and personal experiences to the universal truths of poetry. The poems she admires most come from a diverse group of poets. She chose Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," which she memorized in the fourth grade and has carried with her as a sort of touchstone of her experience, and also mentions e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson, among others. Her tastes are eclectic and not limited to any particular poetic form. VERDICT Bialosky's attention to detail and love of language serve the reader well. This is a book to savor. [See Prepub Alert, 12/19/16.]—Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence

Kirkus Reviews

2017-04-30
A celebrated poet, novelist, memoirist, and editor returns with an account of a life lived to the music of poetry.Norton executive editor Bialosky (The Players, 2015, etc.) traces her life by discussing poems that are significant to her or that comment in some fashion on life's various mileposts. Beginning with early childhood and Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," she continues to the present, pausing to focus on specific works and, in some cases, on the lives of poets. Her sections are short and focused—"Discovery," "Shame," "Depression," "Sexuality," "Ancestors"—and many of the works and poets will be familiar to most readers: Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Shakespeare, Keats, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens. But Bialosky introduces some artists who are less familiar in the popular culture: Stanley Plumly, Eavan Boland, Adam Zagajewski. The author uses this format to deal with moments of joy, crisis, surprise, and horror in her life, including the dawning awareness of her love for poetry, the death of her father, the ensuing frustrations of her mother, the struggle to find love, her loss of two newborns, and the suicide of her little sister—a loss Bialosky wrote about in History of a Suicide: My Sister's Unfinished Life (2011). At times, when the poet's life is especially relevant, she will tell us a bit about that person (Sylvia Plath); at other times, she offers very little biography (Edwin Arlington Robinson). Although her conception and presentation are fresh and original, Bialosky sometimes slips on a cliché lying in her path—e.g., her blood ran cold when she first read Anne Frank; seeing an attractive young man caused her to feel "like a Christmas tree all lit up." Thankfully, such bumps in the road are infrequent. An emotional, sometimes-wrenching account of how lines of poetry can be lifelines.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982104825
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 10/02/2018
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 253,484
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.60(d)

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