MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
For our Monday series This I Believe, we bring you the personal philosophies of people from all walks of life. Today, we hear from Gregory Orr, a poet and professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Here is our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON: In reading the essays written for our project, we find that tragedy is often a catalyst for conviction. In the wake of tragedy, people can become unmoored, in need of an anchoring belief. Gregory Orr found a belief around which to organize his tragic experience. He has made it his work. But it is also his lifeline. Here is Gregory Orr with his essay for This I Believe.
GREGORY ORR: I believe in poetry as a way of surviving the emotional chaos, spiritual confusions and traumatic events that come with being alive. When I was 12 years old, I was responsible for the death of a younger brother in a hunting accident. I held the rifle that killed him. In a single moment, my world changed forever. I felt grief, terror, shame and despair more deeply than I could ever have imagined.
ALLISON: a knowledge that all the easy meanings I had lived by until then had been suddenly and utterly abolished.
NORRIS: the making of poems. When I write a poem, I process experience. I take what's inside me, the raw, chaotic material of feeling or memory, and translate it into words and then shape those words into the rhythmical language we call a poem.
This process brings me a kind of wild joy. Before, I was powerless and passive in the face of my confusion, but now I am active, the powerful shaper of my experience. I am transforming it into a lucid meaning, because poems are meanings. And even the saddest poem I write is proof that I want to survive, and therefore it represents an affirmation of life in all its complexities and contradictions.
An additional miracle comes to me as the maker of poems. Because poems can be shared between poet and audience, they also become a further triumph over human isolation. Whenever I read a poem that moves me, I know I'm not alone in the world. I feel a connection to the person who wrote it, knowing that he or she has gone through something similar to what I've experienced, or felt something like what I have felt. And their poem gives me hope and courage, because I know that they survived, that their life force was strong enough to turn experience into words and shape it into meaning, and then to bring it toward me to share.
The gift of their poem enters deeply into me and helps me live and believe in living.
ALLISON: Poet Gregory Orr, with his essay for This I Believe. Orr tries to write every day. He says, it's how I know who I am. We invite you to write of your personal belief as Orr did. Please visit NPR.org to find out more and to see all the essays in the series and photographs of the essayists.
For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.