Tuesday, September 11, 2007


It was a Tuesday, just like today. I had an appointment for my annual physical later that morning and Bob Dylan was releasing a new album so I turned to listen to WXPN’s New Release Tuesday when the newscaster for the University of Pennsylvania radio station broke in to announce the crash of the first plane into the World Trade Center. I made it upstairs to turn on the television in time to watch the second plane hit live, sinking into the shimmering glass lower than the smoking gouge in the first building milliseconds before the orange fireball burst open.

Everyone of us has our own memories of that morning, where we were, what we felt & thought. I can’t explain to you the anger & despair I feel today knowing that our president used this catastrophe to lie his way into an unwinnable war in Iraq that had nothing to do with the attack on the World Trade Center, even letting al Qaeda & Osama Bin Laden largely off the hook through the diversion of resources into the sinkhole of this conflict.

Since then, I have written of three works that I’ve looked to as the most articulate instances of poetry related to this tragedy. The first of these is James Sherry’s booklength prose poem, Our Nuclear Heritage, published by Sun & Moon in 1991. Which is to say before even the first attempt at bombing the Trade Center. As I commented in my blog on this book, Sherry’s anticipation of September 11 proved eerily on target. I also noted at the time that he has since been engaged in writing a long work on ecological disaster, entitled Sorry. Post-Katrina, he looks to have been right here as well. I wish only that Our Nuclear Heritage was back in print & that Sorry has been published as well.

The second work was the poem, “The Dust,” in Michael Gottlieb’s Lost and Found, published (by no coincidence) by James Sherry’s Roof Books. Actually this is true of all three works in this great book, but the elegiac ”The Dust” is the poem that stays with me, and to which I return. Its placement in the center of this suite of poems is, as I noted when the book came out, perfect. The poem is blunt and terrible and gorgeous and sad all at once.

The third is the poem “Kneeling Bus” in Fanny Howe’s On the Ground, from Graywolf. Like Lost and Found, the entire book is woven through with this experience, which makes for an intense, even exhausting book from a poet who is sometimes mistaken as an instance of the ethereal lyric. It differs from Lost and Found principally in being a later confrontation with the same events, so that it reflects a further moment in the grieving process. As I noted here, On the Ground is “wonderful, simple, terrible, and unfathomably complex.”

There are, of course, hundreds if not thousands of other books already that address September 11. But these are the three that I find I need, and to which I return for exactly the same reason William Carlos Williams once noted, because I can find here news at a level nowhere else available. It sounds corny as all hell to say that these are three works not just for the heart but for the whole person, but it’s true as well.


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