Poetry as protection from earthquakes, chaos, and disorder

from Gregory Orr’s amazing essay collection Poetry as Survival:

The shape of a doorframe also represents a powerful architecture—during earthquakes, people are advised to stand in doorways because they are stronger and safer than anyplace else in a house. It’s possible to imagine the rectangle of a doorway as the rectangular shape of the page where a poem appears. When we are at an existential or psychological edge, the instability of subjectivity is potentially as dangerous as the chaos of a minor earthquake, and the rectangular shape of the page with its poem can be as reassuring as the doorframe in which we seek shelter.

In our daily lives, the image of the threshold can be useful, too. The threshold is that place where we become aware that we are on the borderline between disorder and order. It can be like standing at the brink of a cliff, or the edge of an ocean, or the beginning of a love affair. In other words, it can be threat or thrill (or, perhaps most accurately, it is both at once).

On a day-to-day basis our threshold is constantly shifting and disappearing and being repressed out of anxiety, whereas in poetry we seek out poems that can take us to our threshold (or one of our thresholds). It is just such a place where we feel most alive, where both exchange of energy and change itself can happen. It is on a threshold, at the edge, where we are most able to alter our understanding of the world and of our own lives in it.


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