Charles Alexander joined others in Philadelphia in the early autumn of 2001 to celebrate Gil Ott, poet and maker of many important books of poems through his Singing Horse Press. Alexander, whose Chax Press owes a good deal to Ott’s work and persevering spirit, simply had to be there, notwithstanding the hassle of cross-country air travel during those early post-9/11 days. He arrived a day or two early and gave a pre-celebration reading at the Writers House, trying out some very new poems that seemed, in part, inspired by responses to the September 11 attacks. He had begun a long poem in many sections to honor his daughters, and these later became the book Near or Random Acts, published by — you guessed it — Singing Horse Press.
Martha Rhodes, Lawrence Joseph, Cornelius Eady, J. Chester Johnson, Major Jackson, Marie Howe, Mark Doty, Lee Briccetti (center, at the dais) and The Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee, Vicar (fourth from left) at yesterday’s Poets House event at Trinity Wall St.: “Ten Years After September 11, 2001, Remembrance and Reconciliation Through Poetry.” Photograph by Lawrence Schwartzwald.
For an event held at the Writers House on November 7, 2001, Jena Osman composed a new poem--one might say thus that it's an occasional poem. The occasion was given the overall title "Finding the Words" (as in: how can writers find words to bespeak a response to 9/11?) and Osman's poem was "Dropping Leaflets."
Here is verbatim what Osman said as she introduced the poem at the Writers House: "The title of this program is 'Finding the Words.' Every day I look in the newspapers. I keep sensing the presence of what's not being told... 'Help me come up with a strategy to get through this white noise.' I don't have that strategy, except to call attention to components of that white noise so we can hear it for what it is. In the spirit of Marianne Moore, who often incorporated what she was reading into her poems, I'm going to read a piece made of words I found when I read transcripts of press conferences given by Bush, Ridge, Rumsfeld, and Cheney in the last few days. I read the transcripts, printed them out, I tore them up, and then I stood on a chair, and then I bombed my office floor with them as if they were leaflets and the leaflets told me what to do. So this piece is called 'Dropping Leaflets.'"
The text of the poem is given here. It was published subsequently in a book, An Essay in Asterisks (Roof Books, 2004). The recording made on November 7, 2001, is available on Osman's PennSound author page and linked here.
Al Filreis convened Mark Nowak, Emily Abendroth and Jessica Lowenthal to talk about this poem and more generally some aspects of documentary poetics. They considered, among other things, what happens to such a historically specific writing when some of the context fades as a memory - and whether the aesthetic qualities of the poem become a primary impression. And yet the poem's rhetoric--if that's the right term for a poem constructed of found phrases--speaks to the very question of how we can make ourselves heard in all the centralizing, nationalistic white noise at such a moment.
When Laurie Anderson spent two days with us at the Writers House in 2003, I interviewed her and moderated her discussion with others. This morning we release the segmented edition of the audio recording of that session, dividing the whole into topical parts. Here is the list of topical segments, and here is the link to our Anderson Writers House Fellows page, where you can also find links to video recordings of Laurie's performance and also of the discussion session (in RealVideo format).
1. introduction by Al Filreis (3:19) 2. on the Nerve Bible and the body (4:06) 3. on the autobiographical nature of the Nerve Bible (1:57) 4. on time and responsibility (4:34) 5. on ending but not concluding performances (2:28) 6. on performing Statue of Liberty at the 2001 Town Hall performance (8:20) 7. on starting out as an artist and being in a commune (7:49) 8. on technology and media (8:57) 9. on Puppet Motel (2:52) 10. Anderson's favorite contemporary poets (6:37) 11. on the impossibility of technology being sensually subtle (6:27) 12. on Melville's bible and Songs and Stories from Moby Dick (8:33) 13. on whether or not people are getting better (3:51)
About eight weeks after the September 11 attacks, the Writers House and Rosenbach Library collaborated on an event held at the Writers House featuring, of all things, the modern American poet Marianne Moore. Moore's 9/11, if you can imagine that. Well, it turned out well, I think.