Poetry After 9/11

Book cover, showing a view of lower Manhattan from the New York Harbor, showing the Twin Towers still standing.
Poetry After 9/11

Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets*
Edited by Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians

As with all poetry, this collection is not something to rush through. Especially with this collection, there is an intensity, even with the more lighthearted pieces.

Alicia Ostriker writes in the introduction, “Not many of the voices in this book are solemn. Now do they repeat. Like an explosion, the poems fly out in all directions from an ignited core…. This book is a portrait of the New York temperament, a tangle of cynicism, pride, humor, compassion, and of course confusion. Plus the capacity to absorb hurt and rebound.”

One of the more lighthearted pieces was Paul Violoi’s “House of Xerxes,” which describes a scene that it a cross between the Olympic Parade of Nations and the best of Paris is Burning. Here’s the first stanza:

Here come those splendid Persians!
We were expecting fireworks
And here they are!
Short bow, long arrows,
Colorful long-sleeve shirts
Under iron breastplates –
Nice fish-scale pattern on those breastplates.
Just the right beach touch, very decky.
Quivers dangling under wicker-worky sheilds,
A casual touch, that.
And those floppy felt caps
Make it very wearable, very sporty.
Huge amounts of gold,
A killer-look feel
But it still says A Day at the Shore.

There are, of course, poems that deal more directly with the attack, such as Ostriker’s “The Window, at the Moment of Flame”:

and all this while I have been playing with toys
a toy superhighway a toy automobile a house of blocks

and all this while far off in other lands
thousands and thousands, millions and million

you know – you see the pictures
women carrying bony infants

men sobbing over graves
building sculpted by explosion –

earth wasted bare and rotten
and all this while I have been shopping, I have

been let us say free
and do they hate me for it

do they hate me

***

My favorite line in the whole collection, and maybe one of my favorite lines, period, came from Charlie Smith’s poem “Religious Art”

I press hard with my feet
against the earth and
call this fighting back

Every day.

*This book was sent to me by the publisher, Melville House

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2 thoughts on “Poetry After 9/11

  1. @Stephanie: It is a very powerful collection. The poems were not written specifically for the collection. According to the introduction, poets were asked to submit work they'd completed since the attacks that they felt showed the event's influence.

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