Friday, September 9, 2011

Poetry after 9/11 at the Poetry Foundation

I've got an essay up at Poetry Foundation right now: "Beyond Grief and Grievance: Poetry after 9/11." I'd love to hear what you think, and what poems you went to, and go to now, in the wake of such terror. Post directly at the PF!


Maureen said...

I appreciated the opportunity to read your essay, especially as I'm familiar with almost all the poems you quote or mention. The event, given its enormity, at once both defines and paralyzes. It necessarily must give voice to many voices.

Those poems about 9/11 most apt to endure, to be remembered, offer a way into understanding that goes well beyond the event itself, to get at what it means, fundamentally, to be human. I'm thinking here, for example, of the marvelous "Thirst" by British poet John Siddique, who asks us to "Imagine thirst without knowing water. / And you ask what freedom means. / Imagine love without love...."

Earlier today, I read a very good post by Peggy Rosenthal at Image Journal. (She's the author of "Praying Through Poetry: Hope for Violent Times", which I reviewed on my blog). Her post has stayed with me much of the day, because I began to wonder what poems arising from 9/11 have taken up the questions Peggy raises; what poems dare to imagine what it would be like to extend the hand instead of point the gun.

Philip Metres said...


I think you're right, that poems which somehow strike to the heart of human mystery will resonate when 9/11 is "forgotten," in the sense that it is no longer experienced in its primal trauma. Peggy's essay was deeply thoughtful, but I also want to open a space for poems that do not bring order, harmony, and consolation.

Lyle Daggett said...

I followed the link and read your essay, which I liked much, and I posted a (slightly lengthy) comment in the Poetry Foundation website. The site uses comment moderation -- with any luck, the comment will show there in a day or two.

One further thought occurs to me, after reading Maureen's comment here. Poet Thomas McGrath talked a number of times about his notions of what he called "tactical" poetry and "strategic" poetry.

Tactical poetry, as he described it, is poetry that in one way or another deals explicitly with some specific political event or specific social condition of the present time, that addresses the subject head-on. Strategic poetry might grow out of the same events or conditions, but addresses the subject more broadly, might speak less of specific events and more of the relevant ideas and consciousness and historical background.

A couple of examples, offhand -- Amiri Baraka's poem "Somebody Blew Up America" or Martin Espada's "Alabanza" poem might be examples of "tactical" poetry, in the sense McGrath talked about.

Joy Harjo's poem "She Had Some Horses" or Langston Hughes's poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" might be examples of "strategic" poetry, again in the sense McGrath spoke of. (Carolyn Forche's prose poem "The Colonel" might have some qualities of each.)

I don't insist on these catagories, or in the definitions or examples I've given here. I do find it useful to consider that poetry can address the real world in a variety of ways, and that which ever path the poem takes into the world, it can remain effective and relevant over time.

I've written further in my blog about some of my thinking on the anniversary of the events ten years ago, and some possibly related things. My blogpost is here, if you care to have a look.

Thanks for posting this.

Philip Metres said...

Lyle, I always appreciate your remarks; unfortunately, the PF comments function appears to be in some sort of freeze. But yes, I'd say that both kinds of poetry are necessary, and have been around forever!

Lyle Daggett said...

Philip, FYI my comment (on your "Poetry after 9/11" essay) is up and posted now at the Poetry Foundation site.