First, I wanted to say thank you for your essay, broadcast Monday February 20th, on the NPR segment, “This I Believe.” I want to add that you should feel no obligation to respond to this letter or these gifts.
I have known of your work since 2002. After a reading a poem I'd written a friend asked if I’d ever read your poetry and suggested I do so. The poem I read deals with an accident. When I was 18, I was in a car accident that resulted in the death of a child. I am 37 now. It could be said that I caused the accident. Two versions of the poem appear in the books I am sending along with this letter.
I purchased both Poetry as Survival and The Caged Owl and have found your words comforting and reassuring. But I kept putting off sending you a letter of thanks. I don’t know all the reasons for this. Maybe not wanting to really let go of my story? Maybe not wanting to intrude? I don’t know.
Over the years, I kept trying to get away from the poem and the accident. But, as the introduction to the anthology I’ve sent in a separate package (Weathered Pages) makes clear, the story keeps finding me. Keeps coming back in unexpected ways.
This fall will be twenty years from the accident and ten from writing and publishing the poem that dealt with it. After hearing you read your essay yesterday, I was finally moved to respond. Our community is not small—anyone who has been to war is part of it, for example. But little has been studied or written about Perpetration Induced Traumatic Stress, as it has been called in clinical terms. Even smaller is the circle of people who have attempted to articulate this experience in poetry or prose. Because of the reach of your poetry and teaching, I assume you have come into contact with others who share similar experiences, but as far as I know, there are less than a handful of poems. I have sometimes found solace through identification with stories about families who have suffered a loss. But, as an unrelated participant in the accident, this was always an uncomfortable leap to make. There was no support group to join. So, the sense of “human isolation” has at times been overwhelming. Your poems and prose help me overcome this feeling.
Thank you for continuing to talk about your accident, Mr. Orr.