Marilyn Lerch

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Among their collections both Marilyn Lerch and Jeanette Lynes have poems that are considered 9/11 reactionary, however both poems are taking a different approach to the subject matter they are dealing with. Lerch uses the direct event in order to shed light onto another, whereas Lynes looks at the larger picture caused by an event. We’re introduced to Maria Luz in “Maria Luz Continues” from Witness and Resist, where she is conducting a bus tour of Washington that comes upon the Pentagon immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. While the passengers and the bus driver all react in horror, Maria has a different reaction. She is “momentarily stunned,/as if images conjured up in a thousand sleepless nights/have finally worked their power, stunned” (8). It is clear from what Maria thinks here that she has spent a great deal of time thinking on the destruction of, at the very least, this facet of the U.S. Government. When Maria seemingly goes over the brink, she tells the passengers, as well as the reader, why she has the opposite reaction to the event:

“Exactly twenty-eight years ago

on a blue afternoon like this in Santiago,

I lay bruised and violated like thousands of others,

while somewhere in this iniquitous hive,

glasses were raised…” (8)

Here Maria refers to a coup d’état orchestrated in her homeland of Chile, where many Chilean citizens were arrested, killed, or disappeared. One of the citizens killed was her son, who was hauled from the crowd where “they poured gasoline on him/and set him afire” (9). This coup was fully endorsed by the U.S. government, explaining Maria’s feeling of vindication within this poem. Lerch closes the poem by noting that the ground for the Pentagon was broken on September 11, 1941.

While there are many critics who would ignore activist poetry based on its lack of poetics, this lack cannot be found in “Maria Luz Continues.” Lerch sets up an incredibly interesting interplay of the three September 11th’s – the 2001 attack, the 1973 coup d’état, and the 1941 groundbreaking, which one could argue is highly poetic. The insertion of Maria Luz outside the Pentagon on that particular day deliberately brings the coup d’état and the death of her son to the forefront of Maria’s mind, and as such, the reader can access these events through her emotions.

Jeanette Lynes approaches the events of 9/11 differently. In her poem “The new stories” Lynes looks at not the direct event of 9/11 like Lerch does but rather the aftermath of those events. “The new stories” is about just that, the new stories in a world after 9/11, a world of fear and complacency. In this new world “…No one spins yarns. The new stories are/set in airports, are blunt, without/punch lines” (59).  These stories refer to airport security, and like stated in the above quote, these stories are indeed blunt:

 …They made me unzip my fly. We had to remove

our shoes. They kept my best lipstick. They didn’t like

the way my watch looked at them. They move along with

little awe. …(59)

This section stands in stark contrast to the rest of the poem, where Lynes focuses on the character of the morning. Morning is the throw back 1950s girl, poodle skirt and all. Through her the reader gets that yearning for a simpler time, when the beauty in the world was appreciated. Even morning plays on the idea of security, showing that she, and most people are only “hiding/painfully thin leg, hoping to smuggle/herself into afternoon” (59). Morning is not only representing the morning itself, but also the innocence of the world and the people striving to live within it.

In “The New Stories”, Lynes is more subtle with the implications that she plants in the reader, as compared to Lerch, who is very direct with her intentions in order to make an impact on the reader. Lynes’ approach could be considered more accessible as it still brings the question to the forefront of the reader’s mind without pushing them, causing the reader to dig deeper into the subject matter themselves. This sort approach is common to their other poems as well.

In “A Poem Must”, Lerch again takes the most direct approach, and still doesn’t forfeit poetics to get there. Throughout the poem, she seemingly meanders over what a poem “may” do but when it comes to what a poem “must” do, that the focus is brought in tight:

but it must

enter the muddle somewhere and emerge transformed

using whatever means

to witness for beauty and resist despair. (7)

For Lerch, no matter what route it may take to get there, it is the poem’s ability to see the truth and grapple with it that is most important. She uses the poem as a medium for truth telling and paying proper witness to important political and social events. On the other hand Lynes’ poem is its own entity. In “What the poem wants”, the poem seeks experiences to immerse itself in to understand the truth, much like in “A Poem Must.” It is impossible for Lynes’ poem to lie, whereas Lerch’s must struggle with the truth and the need for it to be told.

These two poets set out to accomplish similar things through different approaches. While Lerch is more direct with her intent, and Lynes is more subtle, both use the main section of the poem to shed light onto the subtext and the importance of other ideas being introduced. Now, these poems are just a small sample of each poet’s work, meaning that there is something that could be dissected and examined here, despite the lack of idyllic Maritime imagery.

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