Remember: Poems for the 20th Anniversary of 9/11
Anthology: Southern Illinois Chapter—Illinois State Poetry Society
Editor: Kathy Lohrum Cotton
30 Poems ~ Artwork ~ 46 Pages
Price: $6.00
Publisher: Independently Published
ISBN: 9798471702806
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Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

In the introduction to Remember, editor Kathy Cotton notes the 20-year-old connection between 9/11 and the September 2021 withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. She reminds us that following 9/11, America had been at war there for some 20 years. It is in the spirit of the Roman god Janus, who wore two faces, one of which looked back; the other looking forward, that the Southern Chapter of the Illinois State Poetry Society offers this new and vibrant anthology.

Remember is organized into two broad divisions: “Remember 9/11,” and “Remember Peace & Hope." The poems in each division reach the heart with laser-like precision bringing the event and its many tangents into clear-eyed focus.

“The Last Collect Call,” by Jacob Erin-Cilberto, captures (almost in slow-motion, as it were) the surrealistic ambience of that awful moment. A moment when “a fractured winged Molotov floats into a bar,” / “explosions ripping the heart from a nation,” / “all of us below soaked to the skin with ash.” A collection of stunned people grapple with a new reality, one that changed the world forever.

A feature provided by the Editor that I appreciate is a compilation of “September 11, Terror Attacks Fast Facts.” This is an eye-opening list of statistics; but more than mere numbers, the listing opens an imaginative window not often considered in terms of felt impact on families. Spouses kissed goodbye. Children donned their backpacks to catch the bus to school. Untold numbers left their homes, that day, never to return to the life they once had known.

Youth Reaction

Bill Harshbarger’s poem “On September 11” reflects upon the poet’s experiences as an educator, observing his students:

        I was teaching a history class
        until we all moved to
        the cafeteria where large televisions
        showed events as they unfolded.

        Scenes were stunning and my students
        had difficulty distinguishing
        "live" coverage from the concept
        that it was a movie by film artists.

        Their response to the destruction
        of the second tower was not
        the shock and horror
        that some of us experienced,

        but rather a kind of admiring surprise
        at the extraordinary collision
        of an airplane with a tall tower
        in New York City.

        I did not judge them—
        they had not yet seen enough of life
        to realize what had just happened
        to hundreds (indeed thousands)

        of people at that moment.
        Twenty years later, we all
        can understand the horror
        of that infamous day.

Irony of 9/11

I remember how ordinary the day had begun for me. Employed at a printing company, I was mostly bored attending to the routine things that comprised my typical day. Then news reports began to filter in … for some reason, my thoughts centered on the irony of the terrorists “weapon of choice,” The airplane. Candace Armstrong captures my emotions in her poem “Living Beneath a Flight Path, I Wonder”:

        Could the Wright Brothers have surmised
        manipulation of their invention,
        glory to terror in warring skies,
        ugly stain upon their jubilation?

        Attacks from the air, no longer a question,
        reminders of long-ago Pearl Harbor
        this retaliation of destruction,
        unleashing twenty more years of war
        on a world weary of starvation’s gun.

        Oh joy! Being earthbound no more!
        The freedom of flying
        abused by evil’s misapplying.

9/11 Captured Pictorially

Of special note is Cotton’s judicious use of captioned photographs spread throughout the collection. The images offer a commentary-in-pictures. Thoughtfully spaced in relation to the pace and logic of the poems, this feature adds immeasurably to the book’s aesthetic appeal.

Healing and Hope

I often like to say, Now it’s the poet’s turn. So much has been written, judged, and legislated about the 9/11 period of our history. It is the purview of poets however, to ring the bell of healing and hope. The power of language is brought to bear powerfully in Remember. I was particularly moved by Mike Ruhland’s “Twenty Years After”:

        Spots of black smoke
        on a little blue ball.
        Once. But then again, and again.

        Black smoke peppers the orb.
        Never ending heartbreak.
        The death of innocents again.

        Grief rains down.
        Please send mercy,
        the kind that falleth as gentle as the rain.

Gentle as the rain, is a perfect description of what many long for at this moment in our nation’s history. Remember: Poems for the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, is a collection worthy of “delivering the goods,” on such a noble aspiration.


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