The poetry of September 11: The testimonial imperative

Karen Alkalay-Gut*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In October 2001, Lawrence Ferlinghetti declared that from now on, poetry would be classified "as B.S. and A.S.-Before and After September 11." Despite the exaggeration, it is clear that testimonial and elegiac elements of poetry and spoken or sung text have become more valued. In public places and forums, there began to surface poems in which aesthetics were apparently subordinated to communicative function and "direct" expression. Indeed, poetry has acquired a long lost social purpose-to order, inform, unite, and console a confused and grieving people. The Internet, accordingly, became the primary venue where the narratives and the emotions collected. Its intrinsic democratic character was utilized, and every testimony of emotion or witness was accepted as equally privileged, so a television witness had as much right to feel and express this emotion as an actual witness. As George Lakoff noted, "The people who did this got into my brain, even three thousand miles away. All those symbols were connected to more of my identity than I could have realized." This study attempts to characterize this distinctive explosion of testimonial and elegiac poetry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-279
Number of pages18
JournalPoetics Today
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2005


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