for Focus 9/11 ©2001 Rochelle Ratner
(Click for larger image)
9/11: Part One
guest edited by Rochelle Ratner
Ratners new book of poetry, HOUSE AND HOME, will be published
by Marsh Hawk Press in Fall 2003. Shes a novelist and a poet,
and edited the anthology BEARING LIFE: WOMEN'S WRITINGS ON CHILDLESSNESS
(The Feminist Press, 2000). For more of her work, see www.rochelleratner.com/
poets' names below to read their poems and biographical notes,
or scroll down.
| Bob Heman | Rochelle
Ratner | Sophie_Cabot_Black
| Kim D. Hunter|Click
to Part II poems->
35 years ago, when I was first starting to write, Denise Levertov
was one of a handful of poets whose work I found endlessly inspiring,
in particular her early New Directions books. The Sorrow Dance
was published around that time, and I recall being disappointed,
as I was with her subsequent protest poems. Apolitical
I branded myself. I longed for those lyrical, personal poems Levertov
used to write.
In his 1968 essay, "Leaping Up Into Political Poetry",
Robert Bly points directly to why I was having problems. Lamenting
that America had not seen good political poetry since writers
such as Muriel Rukeyser and Kenneth Fearing wrote in the 1930s,
he also admits that even these "were not really poems at
all, but opinions." Thirty years later, at a point when he,
along with Levertov, Rich, Ferlinghetti and others, were writing
poems in protest of the Vietnam war, they were still mostly opinion
and rhetoric. As he points out: "The true political poem
does not order us either to take any specific acts: like the personal
poem, it moves to deepen awareness."
Like the personal poem. It was the personal connection
that I was continually searching for. But
how could American poets write political poems from a personal
viewpoint? The poems Randall Jarrell or Karl Shapiro wrote during
World War II drew upon experience, not dissent; intended for an
audience hungry to validate the governments actions, they
can hardly be called "political." As for Vietnam and
the Gulf War, the best poems protested a war which was, in the
words of the classic American song, "Over There." For
those living on the North American mainland, it was always Over
There. Until now.
On September 11th the terror (I refuse to call it war) struck
our own shores, in true dramatic fashion. This wasnt a boy
we knew slightly in high school killed in Vietnam. These were
civilians, people New Yorkers passed on the street or sat next
to in the subways every day. These were friends, neighbors, co-workers.
Missing. Feared dead. Dead. It could have been any one of us.
The political had become the personal.
On September 14th, I returned to teaching a creative writing workshop
at a senior
center in Forest Hills. All the lesson plans Id drawn up
over the summer break were scrapped. I asked people to write about
the tragedy from a personal, political, historical, futuristic,
journalistic viewpoint I didnt care how they approached
the material, so long as they tackled it. The resulting work was
better than any of us had anticipated, but we also realized this
was an event that would unexpectedly haunt our writing for a long
time to come. ("Suicide Bomber," by Kate Iscol--see
Part II of this feature-- was written as an assignment for that
workshop over six months later).
The Internet is capable of distributing immediate responses, and
in the weeks following 9/11 several sites took up the challenge,
as I wrote in an overview I did for American Book Review last
winter. But for this focus, I wanted something more. I wanted
poems written in the aftermath which reached beyond the events
of September 11th.
I started by writing to friends I thought might have appropriate
work, and they wrote to other friends, many of whom live outside
the New York area. I was particularly delighted when Karen Alkalay-Gut
sent me work; an American whos been living in Israel since
1972, shes been active in the peace movement there. Kim
D. Hunters poem is especially interesting, since its
clearly from the viewpoint of someone living near the Trade Center,
when actually Hunter lives in Detroit.
Bob Heman, a friend for over thirty years, worked in the World
Trade Center for more than a decade, often writing during his
lunch break, and it seemed fitting to begin with his poem, giving
a glimpse of the way things used to be. It was written November
19, 1984; as he says: "a poem looking back over a decade
would have been quite different - this was a documentation of
a single day
No other day was quite like it - in that way
it is a true (if stylized) historical document." My own poem,
"Top of the World" (written in October 2002), is one
more attempt to capture the way things were, and just how much
we took for granted.
The political has become the personal. Suddenly everything I expected
in a poem coalesced, not only in my writing, but in the writing
of those Id long respected. As I read poems in other magazines,
or those submitted for this focus, I was looking for work I wasnt
even sure had been written yet, or could be written yet, and I
was lucky enough to find it.
There are wonderful little accidents that occurred while putting
these poems together, such as Tracy Mishkins mention of
Legos, picked up as the centerpiece of Corinne Robinss poem,
or the fact that I could begin and end with poems about the Statue
of Liberty. But what Im most excited about is the transitive
nature of cyberspace. The words here are not written in stone.
As time goes by, as poets absorb the experience of the world around
them in the light of these terrorist acts, Im sure new poems
will be written. This focus is a beginning, not an end.
The Colossus Saw by Karen Alkalay-Gut
stand here for generations watching
the tired the poor the huddled masses -
pretending to look beyond them,
into some ideal time when all learn
the need for humanity's united progress,
to include, accept, encompass.
Its not that I don't consider those grand ideals,
but what I really watch daily is the island -
developing slowly to transcend
even my wildest dreams of liberty,
the maturing, collective knowledge
of the human mind in its service.
Buildings grow - to accommodate,
unite nations. A Center for World Trade! That idea alone
was reason enough for me to stand here,
waiting, all these years, proud.
in London on the last night of the Blitz, Karen Alkalay-Gut grew
up in Rochester, New York, completing a Phd in 1975 at the University
of Rochester. Since 1972 has been in Israel, raising a family,
teaching poetry at Tel Aviv University, writing, and living. She
chairs the Israel Association of Writers in English and is Vice
Chair of Federation of Writers Unions in Israel. Shes also
a coordinating editor of the Jerusalem Review and a trustee
for the Alsop Review.
Adventures by Bob Heman
barge and its tugboat disappeared somewhere between Bridgeport
and Port Newark. Snow flurries in the afternoon were a strong
possibility. The woman guarded the crossword puzzle as her rightfully
private possession. The images kept coming upside down or backwards.
They were related only in that they arrived on the same day at
the same time. Two cards bore exactly the same number. The screen
that filtered out the reflections seemed to be made of almost
invisible strands of tightly woven silk. After the alarm went
off he dozed a bit and was given the answer to his problem. When
he came back to use the typewriter someone was sitting in his
chair. The layer cake had pink icing. Someone was back from vacation
and another was about to get married. He typed up four letters
and a memo to the treasurer. The temporaries were given yellow
lunchroom passes. His desk was full of paperclips.
Heman's prose poems have been published in numerous journals over
the past 30 years, and have been translated into Spanish and Hungarian.
He currently works in a corporate library across the street from
Ground Zero. "True Adventures" was first published in
The Prose Poem: An International Journal.
Of The World by Rochelle Ratner
trade center was the first place she ate rack of lamb, a dish
in those days usually prepared only for two or more and before
him there was no one. They went there for cheap theater tickets,
went there once with her parents and once with a cousin from out
of town. Aside from that it was the Seaport that attracted them,
especially to buy gifts, and sometimes for dinner. There was a
desert she ordered there once, a chocolate mousse or whatever,
the plate decorated around the edges with raspberry sauce that
traced the city's skyline. Shed already taken two bites
of the chocolate, her fork a quarter inch away from that raspberry
design, when the waiter hurriedly pointed it out to her.
Ratners new poetry book¸ House and Home, will
be published by Marsh Hawk Press in Fall 2003. In terms of 9/11,
her most vivid responses have been the photos shes taken
of store windows memorializing and responding to the event. Some
of her photos are seen on these pages, as above. More of her work
can be accessed through her homepage: www.rochelleratner.com.
Last Minute by Sophie Cabot Black
you hold the child tight, huddled,
She asks for one more wish. Someone pushes
You to the back yelling you will soon
Be home. Is this moving away or toward;
Even air cannot find itself,
While you make a way through one last story,
A fumble of buttons, her eyes held to yours
With everything she knows, her voice in
Your voice to drown out the engine
Burning as it was never meant to,
Such acceleration and so much light,
For many are the angels
On their knees, hoping to be first
As the City rises up to greet you
With some on their way to work, some stepping out
To take in the perfect day.
Cabot Blacks poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Partisan
Review and APR, among other journals. Her book, The Misunderstanding
of Nature, was published by Graywolf Press in 1994. She currently
teaches at Columbia University.
by Kim D. Hunter
when youre trying not to swallow
when the dead claim all the silences
and jokes taste like oil and sand
strange to have everything
disconnected by corpses
they came to my house
and painted the air
in every room there was nothing
in the mirror
noise felt like sleep
there were piles of things
bones, songs, receipts,
machines searched endlessly
but could not recover.
D. Hunter is 46. He has worked in media (TV and radio) as a technical
person and host/producer. Hes published one book of poetry.
(Boxes of the books arrived at his house from the publisher on
9-12. Of course, like the rest of the nation, his head was already
doing a slow constant explosion.) The book is borne on slow
knives from Past Tents Press, a small press in Michigan.
above poems: Copyright © 2002 by their authors. All rights,
including electronic, are reserved by the authors and may not
be used without permission.
9/11: Poems edited
by Rochelle Ratner continues to Tracy Mishkin, Barry Seiler, Jane
Augustine, David Beckman, Maray Kallet Click
to Part II poems....>>>
Click back to poems of Karen
| Bob Heman | Rochelle
Ratner | Sophie_Cabot_Black
| Kim D. Hunter