Academic journal article Text Matters

Anthology and Absence: The Post-9/11 Anthologizing Impulse

Academic journal article Text Matters

Anthology and Absence: The Post-9/11 Anthologizing Impulse

Article excerpt

After 9/11, poetry literally covered New York City. Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians, editors of the 2002 anthology Poetry After 9/11, vividly describe a city of poems

stuck on light posts and phone stalls, plastered on the shelters at bus stops and the walls of subway stations. In neighborhood newspapers the letters-to-the-editor pages were full of them. Downtown, people scrawled poems in the ash that covered everything. And on the brick walls of police stations and firehouses, behind the mountains of flowers and between photos of the dead, poetry dominated. (ix)

Johnson and Merians sought to channel this poetic plurivocality: to recreate the anthologizing they saw the city itself perform. Motivated by a similar spirit, City Lore, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving New York's cultural heritage, performed a related task, preserving many of the poems and other writings left throughout the city (Aptowicz 255). Poetry scholar Ann Keniston also aptly describes the effect of 9/11 on a newly collective national aesthetic landscape in which

poets . . . began prolifically to write poems responding to the attacks. Many websites were set up where amateur poets could post their poems; Sam Hamill's website Poets Against the War . . . had received nearly thirty thousand poems when it closed in 2010; and nearly a fifth of the poems in The Best American Poetry 2003, edited by Yusef Komunyakaa, related to the attacks, New York City, or other public or historic events. (659)

The Twin Towers' fall elicited a desire not only to write about or for New York but also to collect such writing. One voice was not enough. It must be plural; it must be anthologized.

Many literary anthologies of New York writing appeared in the decade following 9/11. They range from slender paperbacks and a book in the Knopf Everyman's Library Pocket Series to a hefty 1050-page volume, and their intended markets extend from academic to trade readerships. Some include only living poets; some are diachronic; some feature both poetry and prose. Those published closest to 9/11 are explicitly intended as sources of solace and strength; others are broader reference texts. But each of their editors has either explicitly posited or indirectly implied a new need for anthologizing in the post-9/11 cityscape. The anthologies under consideration here-Poetry After 9/11, Manhattan Sonnet, Poems of New York, Writing New York, and I Speak of the City- variously reflect upon their own plurivocality as preservative, regenerative, and reconstructive.

The work of such anthologies is more complex than filling with plurivocality the physical and emotional hole of Ground Zero. These regional collections operate on the dilemma of all anthologies: that between collecting and editing. The anthologies closest to 9/11 claim to create a newly holistic narrative around the city: to fill a void; to heal with multiple voices. Even the more general anthologies suggest that 9/11 has given special relevance to accumulating city writing. Each of these books offers an implicit or explicit theory about literature's ability to preserve and reconstruct New York in the face of tremendous loss. Generic convention necessitates the incorporation of absence into such meaning-making: every anthology and every anthologist negotiates the relationship between what is present and what is missing. By reading closely the declarative paratexts-including prefaces, forewords, and other moments of editorial metacognition- and the silent but equally powerful canonical choices of several different post-9/11 poetry anthologies, I would like to suggest the ways the anthology's necessary formal incorporation of absence and presence, rather than its plurivocality alone, connects collections of New York's literature to the discourse of memorialization and rebuilding at the site of the World Trade Center.

Popular poetry anthologies in Victorian England had titles like The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics and A Thousand and One Gems of English Poetry. …

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