Art Works Blog

What Can't Be Said

Signs responding to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, New York City, September 11, 2001. Photo by David Finn, from Library of Congress collection

"Poetry is really there to say what can't be said." --- W. S. Merwin

In a 2011 L.A Times interview, former U.S. Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin was asked why people turn to writing poetry as a way to deal with tragedy. Merwin answered, "[P]oetry is really [there] to say what can't be said. And that's why people turn to it in these moments. They don't know how to say this, [but] part of them feels that maybe a poem will say it. It won't say it, but it'll come closer to saying it than anything else will."

As we take some time today to remember the events of September 11, 2001, it seems appropriate to mark the day with some poems (click on the titles to read and/or listen to the complete poems).

"Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,/like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium./Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen/could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations..." --- from "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100" by Martin Espada

"thunder and lightning and our world /is another place no day /will ever be the same no blood/untouched..." --- from "September Songs, A Poem in Seven Days" by Lucille Clifton

"A neighbor hoses down her small front garden: snap peas, zenias, morning glory vines, grief. So much grief...." --- from "The Narrow Road to the Interior" by Kimiko Hahn

"The photograph halted them in life,/and now keeps them/above the earth toward the earth." --- from "Photograph from September 11" by Wislawa Szymborska

"We were dreaming on an occupied island at the farthest edge/of a trembling nation when it went down." --- from "When the World Ended As We Knew It" by Joy Harjo

"Each tower as it falls concentrates/into itself, as if transforming itself/infinitely slowly into a black hole//infinitesimally small: mass/without space, where each light,/each life, put out, lies down within us." ---from "When the Towers Fell" by Galway Kinnell

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