Thursday, September 09, 2010

Poems about God after 9/11

The following is the preface I wrote to a gathering of poems about God written in the aftermath of September 11. The preface and the poems by American, Polish, and Hungarian poets were published in the Scream Online in 2005:


Before 9/11, I didn’t think much about God, and I hadn’t thought much about Him for a long, long time.

Oh, of course, I thought about Him on occasion. I thought about Him at Christmas time when my daughter Lillian was young and she’d ask me about who baby Jesus was. And I thought about God when I got interested in Isaac Bashevis Singer and started writing a series of articles about him. You can hardly write about Singer without writing about God—but there, I was thinking about God in a different sort of way. It was the way I thought about Him when I taught the great religious writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and T. S. Eliot and Fyodor Dostoevsky. God was an idea, a concept, that I was seeing through a lens and trying to make intellectual and academic sense of.

After 9/11, all that changed. When the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center came down, I discovered that God was no longer academic. He suddenly became important in my world. Not in the sense that I’ve come to believe what my father believed when he knelt every night and prayed in the darkness, nor in the sense that I came to believe what the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Christian Brothers taught me as I was growing up and attending grammar school and high school.

God became important in the sense that my world was suddenly touched and continues to be touched by those who believe in him firmly and absolutely.

They touch my world when they send terrorists here to the United States, and they touch my world when they send American troops to Iraq to bring Saddam Hussein down; and they touch my world when they take my students from my classrooms and send them to Afghanistan, or when they blow up abortion clinics and threaten those they disagree with; and they touch my world when they argue the centrality of faith in all political and social and cultural decisions.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Americans and terrorists are the same in any way except this one very important way: many of them are firmly committed to and acting out of their belief in God.

This simple idea, that good people and bad people can both be acting from a commitment to a similar impulse, the impulse to act as God wants us to act, has driven much of my poetry these last few years. I’ve been writing poems about God, to try to find and make sense of this simple idea. I want to understand this as much as I’ve ever wanted to understand anything.

When I told a poet friend of mine about this, when I told her I was thinking and writing about God, she told me something extraordinary. She was too. And she wasn’t the only one.


Poets who contributed to this gathering are Jared Carter, Feliks Netz, M. L. Williams, M. J. Rychlewski, Marty Scott, Brooke Bergen, Sara McWhorter, Charles A. Fishman, Margaret Szumowski, David Feela, Michael Knisely, G. Gomori, Joe Survant, Homer Christensen, David Radavich, and me, John Guzlowski.

The poems themselves are available at the online arts and culture journal Scream Online.