Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir

Image of Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir
Release Date: 
August 14, 2017
Atria Books
Reviewed by: 

Though it could ring echoes of “These Are My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, author Jill Bialosky is too personal and wise to waste our time or her intention. Somehow she is able to do two or three things at once here: catalog some of the most important and memorable poems ever written, recall her life stage when these works were encountered, and finally reveal their lasting significance.

Though it lacks the drive and progressive revelation of her best selling memoir, The History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life (2011), it does weave together personal disclosure and a fiction writer’s sense of story with a poetic attention to detail. Bialosky years as a poetry editor for Norton Publishing pay off with her sharp recall and grasp of some of the poems that have helped her and others to survive.

As the book declares, “Poems offer signposts of the significant moments in a life—sexual awakening. leaving home, the loss of a parent and deaths of a child, the joys of motherhood, a sister’s suicide, a mother’s aging, the day in New York City when the Twin Towers fell.” Bialosky maintains a conversational style while opening her sharp mind and caring heart.

Her suburban life is placed against the inner city poverty on a youthful field trip through Cleveland’s downtown. All of it capped by two moving poems by Langston Hughes. Her grief over the loss of her sister is tied to the poems of W. H. Auden’s “Musee Des Beaux Arts” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”

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. For this we must be grateful.