Since the attack, poets past and present have stood in ceremonies and before Congress to offer their words in hopes of healing the nation's heart.
In the collection of poems below, we consider some of these poet’s perspectives. From the street to the subway and even from the safety of a coffee-filled morning, poets offer unique memorial poems, reflecting on the September 11, 2001, attack. Take a look.
1. "Late Blooming Roses" by David Baker
David Baker's poem reflects on the nightmare of remembering trauma when triggered by a noise or visual response. The very center of the poem beckons for relief, but deep distress bookends the ability to achieve it.
2. "The Naming" by Annie Finch
In "The Naming" you’re presented with the numbness one feels when listening to the unending names of people lost on 9/11. At the same time, you can’t help but experience flashbacks and imagery from the horror. Though heavy, this might be a good poem to read before volunteering on 9/11 National Day of Service.
3. "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" by Adam Zagajewski, translation by Clare Cavanaugh
Dualism is at the center of this poem. Here, the only thing that can fill the deeply carved crevice of pain in one’s heart—is joy.
4. "September’s Song: A Poem in Seven Days" by Lucille Clifton
Scars highlight beauty by default, while beauty turns scars into necessary storylines. That’s why Lucille Clifton refuses to brush those moments under the rug to forget the pain—she uses them as strength.
5. "Alabanza: In Praise of the Local 100" by Martín Espada
Martín Espada's poem brings you into the heart of the Twin Towers, where the radio sings, stoves light up, and people are singing. He imparts essential human connections upon everyone, even the men from Kabul. It’s a lovely in loving memory poem.
6. "The Names" by Billy Collins
Billy Collins is a US poet laureate. Like Annie Finch's poem above, he also chooses to connect the names of those who died with parts of daily life.
7. "Ground Zero" by Robert Creely
Trauma doesn't last forever, Robert Creely writes. Daily life returns without prodding, not because we forget, but because tomorrow's beliefs and dreams must trudge forth.
8. "Strangers" by Lucille Lang Day
“Strangers” does not shy from the truth of that September 11, 2001. More, it personalizes the tragedy so that the reader can honor those lost through every innocuous act of daily life.
9. "Photograph from September 11" by Wisława Szymborska, translation by Clare Cavanaugh
Szymborska's poem tackles what it's like to see photographs of people jumping from a building. Respectfully, he narrates their story, turning stillness into movement. As a result, the horror deepens.
10. "on the day of the dead" by Edwidge Danticat
In Day of the Dead beliefs, there are three deaths: the last breath of air, the joining with the earth, and when people stop remembering you. The attack on 9/11, it seems, desired to make haste of all those steps to erase friends and family from our consciousness immediately.
11. "We’re Still Standing" by Hannah Schoeschert
Hannah Schoeschert's poem contrasts the towers that fell with the Americans who stand for valor, purity, and justice. It's a quick read but gives a lot of room for thought.
12. "The Curse" by Frank Bidart
Upon the first read, Frank Bidart's poem feels like anger. Except it's not. It’s a conviction—a determination where the poet imagines the worst possible suffering for the men who caused the attack’s tragedies of 9/11.
13. "The Eleventh of September" by Roger J. Robicheau
"The Eleventh of September" acknowledges the dead, the surviving families, as well as the resulting soldiers sent to war in the Middle East.
14. "The Window, at the Moment of Flame" by Alicia Ostriker
In real terms, Alicia Ostriker breaches the subject of hate and disdain for her poem's American way of life. She ends her poetry asking if they hate her particularly.
15. "When the Towers Fell” by Galway Kinnell
Galway Kinnell’s poem is palpably detailed, gloomy, and heartbreaking. The majority of elements lie at the very center of the poem. But the poet bookended these details within two contrasting descriptions of absence.
16. "I Saw You Walking" by Deborah Garrison
The poem's focus is a gentleman who is disheveled and in a daze. He’s walking past the poet with torn clothes, dirty. Though Garrison describes her reaction to him at that moment, she imagines the beginning of his day quite differently.
17. "Autumn 2001: New World Order” by Neil Nakadate
Neil Nakadate’s poem is written in three timelines I’ve interpreted as truth, confusion, and struggle. Each plays a pivotal role in describing the events soon after 9/11. See if you agree.
18. "It Must Not Happen” by Sharon Olinka
Some responses to 9/11 weren’t sadness, anger, or patriotism. Some pulled back the scope, telling the story of long before the attack—to place it in a greater context.
19. "September Sonnet” by Michael Salcman
Saving lives, employing cadaver dogs—reaction—was the first action. Yet, so many questions are unanswered, even today.
20. "Jesus Poem” by Susan Birkeland
Birkeland's poem also tackles the idea of falling bodies. But, unlike Szymborska's work, "Jesus Poem" doesn't imagine change tumbling out from one's pocket. Instead, she sees Jesus embracing them in light, so they forgo the fear and pain as they fall.
21. "Holy Smoke” by Ira Cohen
Perceptions and feelings are unique to everyone. Following this, "Holy Smoke" attempts to adjust the radar or group conversation. It imagines that, like chaos theory, without the 9/11 attack, there would’ve been another unavoidable chaotic event.
22. "September 11, 2001” by Samuel Hazo
The poem follows a bird aloft, a plane about to crash, people (many people) jumping and falling, and finally, uncountable numbers of flags. Hazo’s words challenge how you might perceive weightlessness—in beauty, horror, and remembrance.
23. "It’s Cold Today A Cold Worried Heart” by Joanne Kyger
Kyger dives headfirst into the idea of whose side is right; who's side is evil. Who does God love more, she wonders? When you read it, you'll discover an intense unpacking of the need to balance human truths while also expecting consumers to be a data point for capitalism.
24. "The Double Dream of Falling” by Stanley Sam Hamod
"The Double Dream of Falling" compares and questions the events of 9/11 from the outside looking in. Many other nations have been bombed only to watch their loved ones die on their soil. So, Hamod asks why we venerate anyone amidst the chaos when no part of this is unique.
25. "The Old Neighborhood” by Andrea Carter Brown
Brown wants to know what happened to all of the people who had businesses in the Twin Tower neighborhood in New York. Although she can't name them, her memory paints them as a community's personality.
26. "New York, September 12, 2001” by Breyton Breytonbach
Breyton Breytonbach is a survivor of the attack. Through his poem, he reflects on the weight of his words, asking if they’ll ever be sufficient. Here forward, he wonders if death will always haunt his writing after imagining the soft bodies dying beneath the rubble.
27. "When the Skyline Crumbles” by Eliot Katz
Through his poem, "When the Skyline Crumbles," Katz narrates the aftermath of the attack: the phone calls, volunteering, tv-watching, and contemplation of one President Bush to another. He points out which tv stations cover the facts and which ones intensify the drumbeat for war.
28. "September 12, 2001” by X.J. Kennedy
Kennedy compares his life with the two people who jumped from nearly 100 stories above the ground, holding hands. His morning was warm and comfortable as he sipped coffee. Those two people went to a ledge to weigh fate, fear, and pain.
29. "Going to Work” by Nancy Mercado
Mercado's poem billows with metaphor and imagination. What does she see while watching people rush and cry to see what once stood before the 9/11 Memorial? How does her life move through and past them? Life seems similar, but is it?
30. "Untitled” by Andrew Motion
Survivors don’t want to lose the fading voices of dead loved ones. So, they cling to words, tucking them inside for posterity, turning them into a silent benchmark for living.
31. "9/11” by Robert Pinsky
Pinsky's rich poem deserves a few reads over to grasp its fullness. In it, you'll taste and feel American culture and attitudes. He wonders, why we do things in vain to secure a false meaning? Then you'll contemplate our history and timeliness.
32. "South Tower, 96th Floor, Corner Office” by F. John Sharp
Sharp’s poem transports you instantly inside the office building, where two people are trying to breathe. The fumes are intense and glowing with heat. They know the only way out is down.
These are the moments just before two people jumped from the South Tower while holding hands.
Poems to Remember 9/11
Many of us paused to react to the tragedy of the attacks that unfolded in New York City on September 11, 2001. You probably even remember exactly where you were when you heard the news.
It's not unusual to think about your death when tragedies like this happen. If that's the case, we've got some great resources to help you plan for that day so that your loved ones won't have to. Sign on, and Join Cake today.
If you're looking to learn more, read our article on facts about the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.
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- Baker, D. (n.d.). The Language Exchange, writing on history, language, and contemporary culture. v1.elfieraymond.com/ccorner/defense/baker.html
- Bidart, F. (2002). Curse. www.threepennyreview.com/samples/bidart_sp02.html
- Birkeland, S. (n.d.). San Francisco Poets. www.sfheart.com/birkeland/nine_eleven.html
- Danticat, E. (n.d.). Way Back Time Machine. web.archive.org/web/20051104104610/http://www.nyupress.org/110stories/samples/sample.html
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- The New Yorker. (2017, September 11). September Poems. www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/09/15/september-poems
- User Clip: U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins - "The Names". (2013). www.c-span.org/video/?c4470122%2Fus-poet-laureate-billy-collins-names
- Washington Post. (2002). '9/11,' a Poem by Robert Pinsky. www.washingtonpost.com/wpsrv/nation/specials/attacked/remembrance/pinsky_print.html
- Weigle, L. (2015). Remembering 9/11: Top 10 Poems in Tribute to September 11th. heavy. heavy.com/news/2015/09/9-11-poems-quotes-september-11th-remembering-timeline-remembrance-2015-stories-2001-911/