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Poetry after 9/11 : constructing the memory of crisis Luger, Moberley


My dissertation examines the cultural functions of poetry in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. After 9/11, poems could be found in many and unexpected places: they were posted on the internet in the tens of thousands; published in newspapers, magazines, and single-author books; read aloud on television and on radio and collected in at least ten anthologies. Seeking to explain this surge in poetry’s popularity, many critics have discussed the genre’s ability to provide comfort. I suggest that poems after 9/11 be seen also as examples of memory scholar Marita Sturken’s “technologies of memory”: politically-charged objects through which memories are shared, produced, and given meaning. I argue that poetry can be held accountable for its production of the memory of 9/11 and that it can be investigated for the multiple functions it serves in the aftermath of crisis. Using the resources of memory studies, and of cultural studies of poetry, my dissertation makes a case for poetry’s political, memorial, witness, and public-discourse functions. My chapters explore (1) the popularity of W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” after 9/11 and the contemporary politics of the poem’s circulation; (2) the memorial function of poetry as that function is negotiated in a text installation in the newly-built 7 World Trade Centre; (3) the function of poetry as witness and the way the mediation of 9/11 invites a reconsideration of the witness position itself; and (4) the public-discourse function of poetry found, for example, at poetry.com, where 55, 031 people have uploaded their 9/11 poems. By studying poetry’s national presence after 9/11, I challenge the idea, dominant especially since the mid-twentieth century, that poetry is a marginal genre in literature and culture. I also challenge the mid-twentieth century notion that poetry’s value can best be found in its timelessness. Poetry had many timely functions after 9/11 and can be read as a set of discursive practices integrated in our everyday lives.

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