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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Will I Ever Write a 9-11 Poem and Other Thoughts on America Since that Fateful Day

I recall once before blogging about 9-11 and remarking that I had never been compelled to write a 9-11 poem. Given that we are approaching the 10th year anniversary of that tragic event I thought it was worth addressing this again in my own mind and explore some other post 9-11 impacts of  my own.

While it has been nearly 10 years I think 9-11 remains pretty fresh in our minds and the feelings most Americans have remain pretty raw. I think there are several reasons for this.
  • Any child of say 10 up into the teens was old enough to realize what happened on that day and ten years later these people are young adults. They have grown up with nearly half there life under the specter of 9-11 and therefor for many of these people it is a singularly defining moment.
  • The events of 9-11 prompted an American war response that has continued to this day, at considerable expense to the American economy and loss of life and quality of life for many American servicemen and families.
  • Since 9-11 we have all seen dramatic changes in security that have eroded some personal liberty and freedoms for which Americans have long held themselves different from other world citizens.
In spite of how fresh in our minds 9-11 remains for us I have continued distance from it poetically.  I recall one draft of work that has some vaguely distant reference to 9-11 but certainly is not a poem about 9-11.

Immediately after the attack everyone and their pet dog was writing poems about the event. I totally get this because poetry tends to be a terrific release of emotional energy. But doing so, releasing such energy onto a page does not necessarily make for the best poems. There were in the days and weeks immediately thereafter some horrible poetry written on the subject.  Not all of course was bad, I've read some remarkable ones, but I decided long ago that any poem I would write on the subject would need to be quite remarkable.

To me the 9-11 tragedies lives on daily. It is as if the loss of innocent lives that day were somehow not enough. It lives on in many ways and the least of which I'll summarize here:
  • Fear!  Not a new word to us for we've been warned about the cost of fear on our lives decades ago, but to be frank, fear now touches us every time we travel, it has reached our economic stability, and it courts families daily that have sons, daughters, husbands, wives, etc. overseas in war zones.
  • Civil liberties... in the years following 9-11 the individual civil rights and privacy of Americans have been in a watershed of erosion.
  • National stature...  So many things from the breach of rules we have lived under for such a long time with respect to treatment of prisoners in detainment  to the very ill-conceived reasons for preemptive war in Iraq have led others to question our stature as a leader of the free world.
  • Military readiness - our ability to defend ourselves from real threats has been severely compromised by the misguided long term military engagements that continued today as a result of 9-11, and to what end? Have they made us any safer?
For my generation, 9-11 although certainly tragic represents not a singular defining moment in our lives. We have had many of them. Much the same way generations before us have.  Perhaps my problem is that quite frankly my generation has had way too many tragic events.  The 1960's alone were littered with the losses of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and the Vietnam War. And let me say at this point I am not going to engage in debate over which is worse, the murder of one man or that of some 3,000. The deaths of JFK, MLK and RFK were not singular losses but the loss of hope and dreams for millions. They were no better or worse then they deaths on 9-11 as all were tragedies of a national level.

I suppose the one thing about the lack a poetic response to 9-11 on my own that mystifies me is that I am not at all adverse to poetry of witness. I actually am a pretty big advocate of/defender of it. Carolyn Forché is just one of many poets I admire, with a reputation for very such very work. But 10 years later, I still have nothing to add.

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