Monday, March 1, 2010

Falling Man

Day 20 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project. March 1. I am hoping March will come in and go out like a lamb.

Anna is reading Falling Man by Don DeLillo because she recently watched 10 straight hours of video on the 9/11 event. She was doing this in part because she was ready to learn about it, after being overwhelmed when it first happened, and in part because she was writing poems with political/historical themes. She will read her own poem about a falling man at the McLean County Museum of History tomorrow, Tuesday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m. Because the whole thing chokes her up, she will take a short break from Falling Man until the poetry reading is over, so she is not overcome by emotion during the event.

In the last two blog entries, I got a little worried about Jonathan Safran Foer, but he can probably take care of himself. He has also written about the 9/11 event, in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I don’t know whether to recommend it to Anna, so I will read it myself first, but I have some trepidation about reading it and/or the DeLillo book...

When I worked as a poetry editor, we got a slew of poems, almost immediately, about 9/11, and there was a lot of stuff zinging across the Internet, too. W.H. Auden’s poem "September 1, 1939," from a different era, went around, but also plenty of raw stuff, email exchanges, collage poetry. I had the icky feeling a lot of it was exploitation poetry, not really that person’s story to tell, a roiling of rage and grief, mixed with self-importance about what, now, was the only thing worth writing about, or worth reading, and which would, incidentally, get that poet her/his brief fiery 15 minutes of fame.

So I am hoping the DeLillo and Foer books are not exploiting that terrible event, but exploring it. Telling the truth about it in ways that don’t…what?—do further damage.

Bruce Weigl, a poet who managed the impossible in a poem called "The Impossible" (which I leave you to seek out on your own, as it is too shocking for many readers--it is in his book What Saves Us)--that is, to tenderly transform something horrific into something...impossibly beautiful, closes the poem with his ars poetica: “Say it clearly and you make it beautiful, no matter what.” Some critic told Weigl he ought to have said it the other way around: "Say it beautifully and you make it clear...," but it was not beautiful, what had happened to him, then, and what he witnessed, later, during the Vietnam War, which ruined him and made him a writer. “When one is traumatized,” says Weigl, “the world recedes, and when the trauma stops, the world gradually returns, only things are different.”

Things are different. It would be awful to pretend they are not.

I hope Foer and DeLillo are saying it clearly. Without pretense, without exploitation. Revealing the beautiful, horrific, deep, ugly, tender truths.

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