Poetry Will Save Your Life
by Jill Bialosky
Published August 2017
From Goodreads: From critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author and poet Jill Bialosky comes an unconventional coming-of-age memoir organized around the forty-three remarkable poems that gave her insight, courage, compassion, and a sense of connection at pivotal moments in her life.
For Jill Bialosky, certain poems stand out like signposts along her life’s journey. These poems have contributed to her growth as a person, writer, poet, and thinker. Now, take this journey with Bialosky as she introduces you to each of these life-changing poems, recalling when she encountered each one, and how its importance and meaning to her has evolved over time.
Witness Jill turning to poetry in dire moments to restore her faith and cope with loss; there are poems she turns to for inspiration and consolation; poems for when she is angry or disillusioned, or when she wants to see into another person’s soul. While Jill’s personal stories animate each poem, they touch on many universal experiences and life events that all can relate to, from crises of faith to sexual awakening from becoming a parent to growing creatively as a poet and artist.
More than a creative chronicle of one woman’s life, Jill’s book celebrates the unique and enduring value of poetry as a means of conveying personal experience and as a source of comfort and connection.
There are many memoirs in the world, and many of them are little more than a dry recitation of facts beginning with the writer’s childhood and marching onward into the future, pausing at pivotal moments to declare that these were the moments when he/she felt like they might just make a go at acting/sailing/underwater basketweaving before life’s strange twists and turns turned them into a musician/teacher/hotdog vendor. If the writer has a talent for comedy, drama, or both, then this formula works out well. If the writer has no particular talent for writing then, well, the less said about that the better.
Jill Bialosky’s memoir, Poetry Will Save Your Life, does not follow the traditional formula, and instead touches on points in Bialosky’s life- building a snowman with her young son, for example, or the unexpected death of a friend. Each of these stories– whether they are major turning points in her life or everyday moments– is accompanied by a poem that helped her through a dark time or reminds her to celebrate simple joys. A brief explanation of the poem follows the work and helps to explain the connection between event and poem.
Given that Bialosky herself is an award-winning poet and understands how to get to the heart of a story, her prose does not wander off to pointless asides or jokes that aren’t funny. Her intention is to show how poetry from across the centuries has helped her through some of the darkest or most confusing times in her life and to explain to the reader how poetry can help them.
We often view poetry as this strange thing that must be tediously deciphered before understanding dawns, as though the careful explication of rhyme, meter, and rhythm must be achieved before we can enjoy a simple poem. But poetry was never meant to be this complicated Thing. It, like books or music, encompasses a vast array of forms and moods, and so there is something for everyone to enjoy whether it is the simple-seeming yet profound haiku of Basho, the doomed meditations of Sylvia Plath, or the off-kilter wit of e.e. cummings. The trick is to learn how to read poetry in general in order to find the exact flavor that matches our tastes and needs.
Bialosky provides a gentle guide in Poetry Will Save Your Life, sharing her pain and fear and her sometimes ragged map through it that was stitched together with poetry. She takes this monolithic-seeming form and shows us that is is merely a collection of smaller works that we can understand if we give it– and ourselves– a chance.