Lawrence Ferlinghetti calls this “the best poem I’ve read re: 9/11.” And I have to agree (along with Bly’s “Call and Answer.”) However, Poniewaz’s “September 11, 2001” is in a different arena than Bly’s. At fifteen long-lined pages, Poniewaz has written one of the most powerful long poems I’ve read in a very long time, and it’s now available in this chapbook by the same title.
Sometimes, it all comes together for a poet, and that’s what’s happened for Poniewaz in this poem. (Full disclosure: I’ve known Jeff since the 70s when I lived in Milwaukee; that’s how I know of his life-long interests in social justice, peace, and caring for the environment…his love of Whitman and the beats.)
This poem cannot be summarized; no real poem can, but some excerpts will, I trust, give the flavor.
“because the bombardment of Baghdad launched by Bush Sr.
returned like a radar-proof boomerang to haunt Bush Jr.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
and the karma of America’s getting drunk on oil for over a century
crashed into skyscrapers like a drunken-driver into World History” p.6
“Skyscrapers that are missiles no Star Wars shield can
protect us from. Skyscrapers we climbed like Jack’s beanstalk
to strangle the golden goose that sustains the planet’s banquet.” p.11
Throughout the poem poetic forefathers—Whitman, Lorca, Snyder, Ginsberg and others—are alluded to, acknowledged and referenced.
“Whitman took his stand on the tips of peninsulas
and on the peaks of high embedded rocks
to cry “Salut au Monde!” 75 years before Lorca
took his stand at the top of the Chrysler Building” p.14
“If only Allen were still alive to help us figure out this ongoing Planet News
scoop he had such a bead on for decades: i.e. What on Earth is going on
on Earth? He saw right through all national/international chicanery.” p.2
These segments also give a flavor for the rolling rhythm that Poniewaz maintains throughout, carrying the reader on a linguistic ride will not soon be forgotten. You might think that this poem comes a decade too late to be important, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Now, with the perspective of a decade behind us, it is easier to be open to this clear, thoughtful, poetic response to one of the major events in U.S. and world history.
Students of history will embrace this poem. Poets and students of poetry will learn from this poem as a beautiful example of the long poem that is able to be both political and poetic. Anyone who shares Poniewaz’s concern about the kind of world we live in will care about this poem.
reviewed by Charlie Rossiter, Oak Park, IL
Jeff Poniewaz. September, 11, 2001, 2011, available from: Jeff Poniewaz, c/o Inland Ocean Books, P.O. Box 11502, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53211. ($5 includes postage and handling).