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Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  336 ratings  ·  80 reviews
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
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published August 15th 2017 by Atria Books
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Julie Ehlers
In Poetry Will Save Your Life, Jill Bialosky—a poet, novelist, memoirist, and editor for W.W. Norton—charts her life via the poems that have meant a lot to her. Each short chapter deals with a certain aspect of Bialosky's life (falling in love for the first time; her parents' divorce; her own experiences with motherhood, her working life, etc.) and includes poems that remind her of that particular time, or that helped her through that particular time. The goal seems to be to show how vital poetr ...more
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, memoir
Poetry lovers will agree that poetry can bring comfort and joy, but save your life? That dramatic title seems an exaggeration until you read about Bialosky’s life. While everyone experiences troubles and loss, she’s had enough for a whole neighborhood.

I especially love memoirs by writers. Not only are they better written than your average tell-all memoir, but you get to see how a writer emerges. It’s amazing how many women authors have a Jo March moment in their youth. Write what you know! That
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jim Coughenour
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Two stars only because of a few great poems – although I'm tempted to subtract even those icons because Biolosky included over-digested chestnuts from Frost, Dickinson, Robert Louis Stevenson. But a one-star slap in the face for me, for buying this book without reading a page. I was hoping, I suppose, for something along the lines of Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn or Edward Hirsch's How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, something to idle away an hour or three. Instead I got a pros ...more
Larry Smith
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 S
Emma Sweere
Dec 29, 2017 rated it did not like it
It's thoroughly disappointing to see a writer of such prestigious history and success in the literary world produce such a poor-quality book. Though this is the first of Bialosky's work that I've read, this piece leaves me with no desire to sample anymore. Strung together with some strong poems by other writers, the author's impersonal, surface-level anecdotes are a poor excuse for memoir, and often feel overly forced in order to accent a specific poem. The organization is sloppy, the writing st ...more
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very surprising blend of memoir and literary analysis. Bialosky illustrates the story of her life - her father’s death when she was small, growing up with her mother (trying desperately to remarry) and sisters, becoming a working woman in the 80s, marriage, losing a sister and first two children - with the poems that found her over the course of her life. She provides some basic analysis or interpretation of each poem so even those new to reading poetry don’t have to worry. A lovely book about ...more
Mike Good
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book likely won't astound a contemporary poetry reader with its analysis or its selections, yet it does so much to communicate poetry as a vital force to a general audience. A book about poetry not aimed at grad students and poets-in-progress is really admirable and well-executed here, and I enjoyed reading it.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it did not like it
While I thought that the concept of the book, i.e. linking poetry to different parts in the authors life, and using it as a tool for the memoir, was interesting, I had a hard time getting through the book. I found that the order of the chapters made little sense, the book would go from a story about childhood to one about adult hood, and back to childhood, without any link between the stories to explain the ordering. The concept is very interesting, and could make a great book, however, in this ...more
Chris Roberts
Oct 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
I foresee, in the days, an intellectual and cultural suicide perpetrated on poetry readers,
verse is for funerals and Renaissance Fairs,
poetry falls all over itself to impart what it can't. Verse, unrehearsed, I'm that planet,
poetry's sole purpose is the subjugation of the poet's identity via commercial forces. Publication is self-murder.

Chris Roberts, Patron Saint of Nothing
Mar 26, 2018 rated it liked it
I had problems getting into her life stories for the most part. There were several interesting poems. I liked the idea behind the book: writing a memoir with famous poems to go along.
Mar 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle, read-in-2018
A rather grandiose title, eh?

I have mixed feelings about this one. I thought the concept was interesting — part poetry, part memoir. It’s a great way to introduce someone who doesn’t normally read poetry to some of the most famous and moving poems in English. But most people who like poetry already know these poems (e.g. "The Road Not Taken," "Richard Cory," "We Real Cool," "The Snow Man"), often by heart. There’s nothing wrong with putting them in front of us again. But I’d have to agree with t
bklyn mike art
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
loved this mix of important poems in the context of works that find you at just the right time in life.
Lisa Mcbroom
After suffering tragedy in her life, Jill Bialosky uses her favorite poets and poetry to get her through the struggles.
Erin English
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Part memoir, part poetry, part analysis. This book is perfect for anyone who doesn't really like or understand poetry, but wants to give it a second chance.
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
Poetry categorized into a life. A wonderful mix of story-telling, highlighted by the greatest poets of our lives. I thoroughly loved this concept!
Jul 16, 2017 rated it liked it
My review for the Chicago Tribune:

Jill Bialosky draws the epigraph for her ninth book, "Poetry Will Save Your Life: A Memoir," from the poem "Dedication" by Czeslaw Milosz, which asks: "What is poetry which does not save / Nations or people?" As her superlative title suggests, Bialosky organizes this memoir around 52 poems by such poets as W.H. Auden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Emily Dickinson and many more that she believes answer Milosz's question admirably, in
Diana Raab
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Once in a while you pick up a book that is a surprising gem. For me, this was one of those books. Bialosky, an esteemed poet, has collected poems that identified certain pivotal moments in her life. "Being a poet sometimes puts you at the mercy of life, and life is not always merciful," she says (p. 112). In this book, she presents a famous poem, shares the poet's message, and tells what resonated with her. Some of Bialos ky's stories are very powerful, and many really resonated with me. In her ...more
Sep 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Before I discuss my review on this book, I feel like I should tell you how I first came upon it...

I lost my Dad to pancreatic cancer in July and it has been beyond crippling to say the least. Reading has always been my outlet when things get tough, so my therapist suggested that it might be a good idea to reasearch different books that may help to guide me through the grieving process and that is exactly what I did.

Jill Bialosky’s escape from life’s many struggles and tribulations is through po
Michelle Kidwell
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Poetry Will Save Your Life

A Memoir

by Jill Bialosky

Atria Books

Biographies & Memoirs

Pub Date 11 Jul 2017

I am reviewing a copy of Poetry Will Save Your Life through Atria Books and Netgalley:

This book reminds us of what it is like to fall in love with Poetry. The author talks about falling in love with poetry, while in fourth grade reading The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, the poem that first started my love for poetry as well. She talks about the parallels in her life and the poem.

She goes on t
Lolly K Dandeneau
Jun 12, 2017 rated it liked it
via my blog:
“The world is changing, but we seem to be living in our own little stagnant capsule, where everything depends upon the illusion of well-being. I feel a revolution happening inside of me too, but at the time I don’t know what it means. “

Jill Bialosky, author of books such as History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life, The Life Room and House Under Snow here takes memoir using poetry to share episodes of her life. The beauty lives in moment
Esther Oluwakemisola Aluko
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
The first thing that came to my mind when i picked up this book to read was how dramatic and a little hyperbolic the title was, however, reading it was a different experience entirely.

The author uses moments and experiences in her life to explain different poems and what they meant in those moments. Through this, she passes an underlying message evident from the start of the book to the end that a poems's meaning alters by associations, insights and by the experiences we bring into it.

The book
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An English professor at the University of Pittsburgh irked me once when he didn't care for the way I ended a poem about the decay and eventual death of a relationship. I thought the piece was pretty darn fabulous because of all that twenty-something angst he objected to in my closing line. Professor Oakes urged a revision, telling me: "Paula, poetry is about survival." All these years later, reading Jill Bialosky's "Poetry Will Save Your Life," I have to admit, Professor Oakes was right.

In her b
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bialosky, a writer who has long been enchanted by poetry, takes an unusual approach to memoir in this book. She pairs short passages about her own life with poems that she connects with those times. She begins with nursery rhymes and Robert Frost and moves through the poetic cannon to the more challenging poems of Plath, Auden, Audre Rich, Denis Johnson, and others. After each poem, she offers information and interpretation of the poet and the poem. In many cases, these are poets to which I neve ...more
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I loved the concept here.... A memoir using as scaffolding the poems that were important to the author at various inflection points in her life. The author's life held a lot of tragedy: her father's early death, her mother lost in depression and a frantic effort to find a new husband, the author's loss of several babies, her sister's suicide, etc. Through it all, Bialosky found solace and courage in poetry.

I'd hoped to discover new poems within the memoir, and I did, but was kind of disappointed
Norb Aikin
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable and informative. Easy to read in short spurts...the "memoir told through poems" format lends itself to a simple formula: personal anecdote, poem, synopsis/personal relation. While I'm not familiar with Bialsosky's work herself, her use of other poets to tell parts of her own story mean occasional introductions to other poets I've yet to read.

Sad at times and (obviously) reflective very often, the only fault I can find with this book (which almost feels like I'm unfairly nitpickin
Bridgid Cassin
Apr 11, 2018 rated it did not like it
A disappointment, at best.

True, this book suffers from comparison, and I’ve just come off reading a lot of other (better) poetry texts. It skews more closely to memoir than poetry, but it does include a lot of good examples and classics in the text.

The problem is that these poems are framed by short memoir pieces and some cursory analysis that is at times clumsy or at worst (depending on your judgement) plagiarized. The review in The Tourniquet Review explicates these passages more clearly, so I
Darci Morosko
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed the format of this book; it’s a memoir that jumps through different stages of the author’s life using poetry to add depth or provide another layer. As her life story unfolds I found myself remembering certain poems and when I read I felt...what gravity they lent in certain moments...she shared lines of poetry and wrote of the detail or emotion a poem invoked and how it affected her at various stages of her life. I loved the concept. I wonder if it would be worth the v ...more
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have never read a memoir until now, and let me say, I loved it!

Poetry has always been a sore genre to me. I didn't really understand it and I thought that all poems had to rhyme. Because of this, I have protested to not write poetry.

Although, this book has changed my view on poetry.

I've realized that poetry doesn't have to make sense. Unlike stories, poetry captures a single moment in time. They tell of feelings and quick thoughts, not long narratives and complicated plots.

So, yes, I really
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Nevertheless, for a decade, not a day goes by when I do not think about him or wish things could be different. I wonder, why do we love who we love? Why does love die? There is a fierce irrational attachment between us. I can't stand to think of him upset or hurt, and the thought of him with someone else is unbearable..."

"I'm grateful for my books, my deep infatuation with literature, and my poems..."

"What mysteries lie in togetherness?"

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / The
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Jill Bialosky was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She studied for her undergraduate degree at Ohio University and received a Master of Arts degree from the Writing Seminars at The Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.

Her collections of poems are Subterranean (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001) and The End of Desire (1997). Bialosky is also the author of

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