In the aftermath
of Sept. 11, countless poets sought to fill the sky, which was suddenly
much more empty than it had been a day before. More than 100 of them
have contributed to "An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind:
Poets on 9/ 11," a new anthology edited by local poets Allen Cohen
and Clive Matson. They host a publication party and memorial service
tonight at San Francisco's Studio Z.
the book include some of America's best-known poets, including Robert
Creeley, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Coleman Barks, former U.S. Poet Laureate
Robert Pinsky and current San Francisco laureate devorah major. They
also include 12-year-old Mariah Erlick of Willits (Mendocino County),
whose poem "On T.V." might be one of the most moving pieces
in the book:
. . . the saddest
thing isn't the tears that choke the city,
blood, isn't the smoke and ash,
thing is that New York's children
poets have to do," said Cohen, a founder and editor of the San
Francisco Oracle and a co-creator of the original Human Be-In. One
last week he sat with Matson in the otherwise empty Studio Z to discuss
to express the inexpressible, to see what isn't ordinarily seen. They
have to give meaning to disparate, irrational reality."
"An Eye for
an Eye" originated with a single poem, Matson's furiously ambivalent
"Towers Down," which imagines the horrors of thevictims ("I'm
not running across/ floor 79 and banging on/ a door that won't open")
while castigating his own country for inviting such antagonism ("How
wonderful! Finally/ we live in the same/ fear we create").
"The poem was
taking over so strongly," recalled Matson, author of "Space
Age" and "Heroin." "I had to give in." When
he showed it to his friend and mentor Diane DiPrima, who published
first book in 1966, she mentioned that she had a Sept. 11 poem too
and proposed that they publish a chapbook together.
Informed of the
plan, Cohen noted that others -- Ferlinghetti, fellow San Franciscan
Jack Hirschman -- had poems on the subject. A full-scale project was
soon under way.
Matson, who has
an MFA in poetry from Columbia University, contacted his huge circle
of poet friends, then consulted Poets & Writers, where he handpicked
200 more estimable writers and sent them a call for submissions. Within
weeks, Cohen said, "I had to go through 800 poems. It was his fault." He
pointed to Matson and grinned.
Many of the contributors
chose to address the event with empathy for the victims. Others lamented
the state of a world that could produce such a calamity. Some, like
Matson, did both.
A few wrote about
their inability to find words that felt weighty enough to address the
topic. Also of note, one type of poem the editors did not receive: "We
didn't get any patriotic poems that had any real power," said
But with the overall
quality of the work exceeding their best estimates, name recognition
alone was not enough to guarantee a contributor's inclusion. "We
did refuse several well-known poets because they didn't really step
up to the subject," said Cohen.
question I asked you," his partner recalled, "was whether
you had a sharp ax."
is the ax of Cleveland's Mark Kuhar, a disciple of the late outlaw poet
and fellow Ohioan D.A. Levy. In one of his three pieces he addresses
an open letter to Osama bin Laden:
Is this what you
do for fun? . . .
I have some
suggestions you might want to try instead.
read dr. seuss.
smell a flower.
do a cartwheel.
children playing & drink grape
kool aid .
bin laden we look
up at the same
the same stars, watch
from the same precipice.
don't you get it,
This article is respectfully borrowed from James Sullivan,
Chronicle Pop Culture Critic, Tuesday, September 10, 2002
Poem: An Eye For
An Eye Makes The Whole World Blind by Allen Cohen
Flying to Washington, DC For A Reading
Taking off from Oakland
heading for Washington D.C.
and then New York for
Poets for a World at Peace reading.
Lifting over San Francisco Bay
its calmness a sheet of glass.
Sun Rising, golden light
slipping through gray clouds,
layers of fog and clouds
and different shades of blue sky.
Rising far above striated
cirrus clouds that look
like twisted strands of DNA.
From heights like this
bombs may soon drop on Iraq –
600 cruise missiles for first two days
to produce “shock and awe”
really meaning firestorms
bringing immense death and destruction
even while countries and their peoples
resist our president’s bellicose bullying
for the control of oil.
I wrote an email to Elz Cuya,
a fellow poet who writes sonnets,
that every moment is a peace march.
Why this drive to war and empire?
Even more than oil, is it a shield
for protecting the oligarchy
from the revelations of their corruption
in every corner of our country?
Collectively we have become as corrupt
as many third world dynasties.
The Sierras are covered with snow
white mountainous vision
The corporations invent
tax dodging tax schemes
and stock frauds, rape the environment
buy and bribe politicians and presidents
to construct the climate that will rain
more profits and power.
The church’s centuries of sexual repression
cloaking the rampant pedophilia of priests
stretching their clouds of guilt over history.
The desert below beige, barren and expansive
between the Sierras and the Rocky Mountains.
The insurance companies, with the collusion
of doctors and HMOs defrauding Medicare
for over 75 billion dollars per year and
seeking to avoid lawsuits for their mistakes.
The corporate drive for cheap labor
spreading its tentacles all over the world
destroying cultures, childhood and environments.
All the worlds money and resources pouring
through the sieve of their hidden bank accounts.
While poverty and plagues sweep over the world
the drug companies resist researching medicines
for third world disease and
fight to keep their patents and profits.
The western Rockies stretch out below
toward the snow capped mountains of the east.
The media conglomerates soaking us
in propaganda in the interests of the corporations
that own them or pay their sky-high salaries.
The scientists at Los Alamos building nuclear weapons
stealing money, materials
and perhaps information
from their erudite perch in the desert.
No part of the oligarchy
without guilt or complicity.
The rest of us have only our frustrations
poverty, sickness, insecurity, high rents
homelessness and their passion
and even that smothered
by the pressures of survival
and the somnambulance
and brainwashing of TV and movies,
while conglomerates suck up
the national wealth and this criminal junta
crawling toward domination or impeachment.
targets more money for the rich.
And what are we to do?
March, demonstrate, write poems
and diatribes to each other,
block doorways, break windows
fantasize uprisings and get arrested?
The plane shakes and shudders
we fly over cities and then the Appalachians
brown and shorn of trees and spotted
with icy lakes and streams.
Finally a smooth descent to Dulles Airport
landing in the icy capital
temperatures below zero.
EYE FOR AN EYE MAKES THE WORLD BLIND - POETS ON 9/11. from:
6020-A Adeline, Oakland, CA 94608
Back to S.F.Heart's Allen Cohen Poetry or Close