Can Fiction Help Make Sense of Sept. 11? Filmmakers and writers are looking at the events of Sept. 11 through the prism of fiction. Some see heroism, others black comedy. A film critic, an author and a poet discuss whether art helps make sense of an event that, for many, remains incomprehensible.
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Can Fiction Help Make Sense of Sept. 11?

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Can Fiction Help Make Sense of Sept. 11?

Can Fiction Help Make Sense of Sept. 11?

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Neal Conan is on vacation.

The arts have always helped us understand the world around us. They let us see the same thing from different perspectives. 9/11 is no exception. As the 5th anniversary approaches, we're going to talk with three people about three different perspectives.

First, a film critic about the latest 9/11 film. It's Oliver Stone's World Trade Center, which opens nationwide today. The film has a purely emotional take on the day. We'll also hear from a writer whose new novel paints a wickedly satirical scenario of 9/11. And finally, a poet puts the event into the context of history. As history gets rewritten and reinterpreted, so have his views on the tragedy over the last five years.

Later in this hour, donations for Lebanon falter as donations fear they'll wind up in a government database of terrorist supporters.

But first, 9/11 and the arts. Has art helped you make sense of an event that for many remains incomprehensible? And if so, how and why? Tell us about the books, movies or poems that you've found relevant. Join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK, or send us an e-mail to

And joining us now from Stoning, Maine, is A.O. Scott. He's the film critic for The New York Times. His review of Oliver Stone's World Trade Center appears in today's paper. Thanks so much for taking a little time out of your vacation to talk with us today.

Mr. A.O. SCOTT (The New York Times): Very nice to talk to you, Lynn.

NEARY: You said in your review that - you called the film unbearably moving right from the start, which I agree with largely because it vividly returns you to that day. And I think that Oliver Stone manages to create a kind of tense anticipation of what's coming, even though, or maybe because you know what's coming. But -

Mr. SCOTT: Yeah. Well, it begins, you know, as the day itself began in New York, with the morning commute. You know, the characters who will turn out to play an important role in the movie, who are these Port Authorities police officers, you know, waking up, getting out of bed, driving, taking the subway, taking the commuter trains into the city. And there's just these very beautiful kind of shots of New York kind of waking up. And anyone who's, you know, been out and about early in the morning can appreciate it. And there's this sort of the beautiful late summer light that there was that day.

And, you know, you feel this feeling in the pit of your stomach as you remember. In a way, it takes you back to what that day was like for you, to what it was like, you know, just before. And there's this kind of stark separation that we all remember in our own experience between before and after. And so you know what's coming. You don't know exactly what shape it's going take for these characters right yet.

But you're immediately thrown back, you know, into your own very, very personal and very, very painful experience of that that you re-experience through what these characters are going through. Which is, you know, quite a lot worse than what most of us who, you know, who saw it at second or third hand from a distance or on television went through.

NEARY: The film is emotional, but do you think it's emotionally manipulative?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, movies are. I mean -

NEARY: Right.

Mr. SCOTT: Movies - because they make you feel things, you know, that are indirect. And I think that it does. I would say, you know, manipulative is a little charged. I would say it certainly choreographs your emotions. It kind of pushes you through these different passages of fear and anxiety.

It goes back and forth between these two guys played by Nicholas Cage and Michael Pena, two Port Authority police officers who are buried in the rubble and are alive, but completely pinned down under all of this masonry and steel. And their two wives, who are played by Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who are, you know, trying to figure out what has happened to their husbands, waiting for some kind of word, wondering what to do. Sitting, in their own way, sort of paralyzed, you know, watching TV, waiting for the phone to ring. Trying to figure out how they can help their husbands and how they can even find out whether their husbands are alive or dead.

So it takes you through grief, anxiety and the fear. But also, the kind of the solidarity and caring and generosity and fellow feeling that were also part of the 9/11 experience. Certainly in New York, everyone, you know, the way that strangers kind of came together, and in this sort of sympathy for each other that was a very unusual thing that was remarked upon a lot at the time that, I think, has receded a little bit in our memories.

One of the things that the movies does that I found very interesting was kind of remind us of how that experience unified people. And, you know, now five years later, we're as a country and as a people, I think, quite a lot less unified maybe than we were right then.

NEARY: Yeah. You actually called the movie, a refuge from the ugly, depressing aftermath.

Mr. SCOTT: Well, yeah. That was, I mean, I watched the movie, you know, sort of choked up and on the verge of tears for two and a half hours. And - but in some ways that oddly feels a lot better than, sometimes, than picking up the newspaper and looking, you know, at what, sort of surveying what's happened since then. And it's partly because there is a way in which what happened that day - in terms of the emotions that everyone who was near it went through - was very simple, you know.

And this movie is a very unsubtle, very empathic, very simple movie. And the politics of 9/11 and of the post-9/11 world are much more complicated and confusing and frustrating and depressing, which are in a way more difficult emotions than this sort of the pure bold ones of, you know, grief, anxiety, fear and also the sort of the current of love and decency that also runs through this movie.

NEARY: We're going to take a call now from Gary in Memphis, Tennessee. And if you liked to join our discussion about the arts and 9/11, give us a call at 800-989-8255.

Hi, Gary.

GARY (Caller): Hi, Lynn.

NEARY: Go ahead.

GARY: Yes. My question is, is there any works of art that will help us to understand the motivations, particularly, the theological motivations of those who attacked us on September 11, 2001?

NEARY: I don't know that I have the answer for that.

Mr. SCOTT: I don't know. That's an excellent question. I think there have certainly been attempts, not maybe so much in filmmakers. But certainly, you know, I think John Updike's recent novel, The Terrorists, tries to do that a little bit. There is a film, a Palestinian/Israeli film came out last year called Paradise Now that tries, not so much theologically, but tries to kind of investigate the psychology of suicide bombers.

I would say, it's interesting that you ask that question, Gary, cause one thing that's noticeably missing from the Oliver Stone movie, World Trade Center, is any mention of the terrorists at all, because this is all happening the morning of September 11, and by the time, you know, the guys who are the main characters who are buried in the buildings don't even know what happened. I mean, they know a plane hit one of the buildings. They don't even know the second plane.

GARY: May I ask, might that be a big flaw of the film by Oliver Stone, because it doesn't include the attacker's view, even as they are doing the attack at that time?

Mr. SCOTT: Well, I would say it's an omission. I don't know if it's a flaw. It seems to me that what this movie is trying to do - the script is based on the experience of these two Port Authority cops, and it's trying to tell, you know, what happened to them. So it's limited in its focus.

But I think it is striking that, you know, five years later what we're going back to is the, sort of the emotions of the day, rather than, you know, trying - and I think, you know, Oliver Stone could've made a very interesting and probably quite controversial movie, trying to grapple with the motives and behavior of the terrorist.

But that's something - I think a lot of the films, the sort of Hollywood movies that have in some way dealt with 9/11 have tried to either, you know, deal with it obliquely and allegorically and indirectly, or when they deal with it sort of frontally, the way that this movie and United 93 do, try to go a very non-controversial, very non-political route.

And that can be frustrating. I mean, that, you know, is - these movies do what they do, I think very well, but I sometimes share that frustration with what they're not doing, or the kind of, the thinking about the background to this event that they don't help us to undertake.

NEARY: All right, let's see if we can get another call in. Jeff in Wichita, Kansas.

JEFF (Caller): Hello, this is Jeff.

NEARY: Hi, go ahead, Jeff.

JEFF: Well ironically enough, I'm a professional historian, I'm an academic, but the thing - my problem with at least the two major feature movies about 9/11 is that they both seemed, it seemed crass. I haven't seen either one, and I don't plan to. It seems forced and crass and maybe it's the - I assume that they were both lacking in complexity, insofar as looking at the events, and I think there's a lot of people, a lot of my friends, with just no interest in seeing it.

It's just, it's such a sacred moment, you know, it just doesn't seem right to go see something to have a - to relive it. And I guess I'd like, you know, your reaction to that, because I think there's a significant amount of people who feel that way.

NEARY: Who are uncomfortable about going to these movies. I mean, I have to say, A.O. Scott, I kind of felt the same way. I went to see it because I was doing this show, but I might not have seen it otherwise. I almost felt uncomfortable going into the movie theater.

Mr. SCOTT: Well, I think that, I recognize that, and I certainly - when United 93 came out, I wasn't assigned to review it and, you know, I felt I had a professional obligation as a film critic to see it, and it took me a long time. You know, I kept saying to myself, okay today I'm going to go, you know, I'm going to go to the screening, and then it came out in theaters, and I thought well, I'll go see that show.

And I kept, you know, accidentally on purpose missing it or, you know, I was certainly avoiding it. And I absolutely understand that. I think that, you know, people, audiences need to decide whether they want to go through this again, whether it's of any use or interest for them.

I think, though, that it's perfectly legitimate for artists. I mean, I don't ever want to be in a position to say that there are, you know, there are topics or subjects or approaches to topics and subjects that are off limits, and I think that movies - you know, movies are a popular art form, a very powerful one.

They've become, for better or for worse, you know, one of the vehicles by which we kind of understand and make sense of and interpret our experience. So I think that there was nothing wrong with the making of these films, and I think that both Paul Greengrass, the director of United 93, and Oliver Stone took a very, you know, an approach that has a lot of integrity but that I also think is a very, in a way, a safe approach, because both of these movies were very careful to avoid -

NEARY: A.O. Scott, thanks so much.

Mr. SCOTT: - politicizing or making anything controversial about this event.

NEARY: Thanks so much for joining us today. A.O. Scott is a film critic for the New York Times. He joined us from Stoning, Maine, where he's on vacation, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.

Next month marks the five year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. We're talking about how the arts - movies, books and poems -can help us understand 9/11 and to see what happened from different perspectives. You're invited to join the discussion. Has art helped you make sense of the attacks on 9/11? If so, how and why? Tell us about the books, movies or poems that you found relevant. Give us a call at 800-989-TALK or send us an e-mail to

9/11 crops up as a theme not only in films, but in literature, too. Ken Kalfus joins us now. He's the author of a new novel, which begins on that day. It's called A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, and he joins us from member-station WHYY in Philadelphia. Ken, good to have you on the show.

Mr. KEN KALFUS (Author, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country): Thanks for having me, Lynn, hi.

NEARY: Ken, I would say that people tend to treat the subject of 9/11 gingerly, considering the tragedy and the mayhem that it created. As I think you probably heard some of the discussion we've just had, the new Oliver Stone movie, you know, draws you into the emotion of that day, sort of emphasizes the heroism of its characters. You've gone in a very different direction. Why?

Mr. KALFUS: Well, this novel is something of a satire. It starts off like the movie, on 9/11. In this case, two people who are having a terrible divorce, each think the one has been killed. The husband's supposed to be at work at the World Trade Center, and the wife is supposed to be on Flight 93, and each thinks the other is dead that day.

They're both wrong, but they're both secretly, gloriously thrilled by the idea. And the novel's a comedy, and it takes them from that day through the recent events in our nation's history, through the anthrax crisis, the war in Afghanistan and suicide bombs, Enron, and up to the war in Iraq.

NEARY: And I'd like to read a passage from the book just to give people some idea of what it is you're talking about, kind of the tone. This is very early in the book. As you just described, Joyce, the wife, is looking up at the World Trade Center, surrounded by other New Yorkers looking at it, and she's thinking about the fact that her husband is there, and here's what happens.

“Joyce heard gasps and groans and appeals to God's absent mercy. A woman beside her sobbed without restraint, but Joyce felt something erupt inside her, something warm, very much like - yes, it was a pang of pleasure so intense it was nearly like the appeasement of hunger.

It was a giddiness, an elation. The deep-bellied roar of the tower's collapse finally reached her and went on for minutes, it seemed, followed by an unnaturally warm gust that pushed back her hair and ruffled her blouse. The building turned into a rising, mushroom-shaped column of smoke, dust and perished life, and she felt a great gladness.”

Now I have to say, Ken, when I read that passage, number one, I thought this is going to shock people, and I thought - and it couldn't have been written, say, a year after 9/11. It had to take some time. But I wondered if you had any reservations as you plunged into this material, any inhibitions about how far you were willing to go with this satire.

Mr. KALFUS: Actually, it was written about a month or two afterwards.

NEARY: Was it?

Mr. KALFUS: It was, yeah. And I was aware as I was writing this that I was being somewhat transgressive. As A.O. Scott mentioned in the previous segment that artists and writers and filmmakers have to be willing to push the envelope a little bit, and I know what I was thinking, what I was writing, was going to be a little bit shocking, so - but I felt it was something I could do and if people didn't like it, well, that was another matter.

NEARY: Why did you want to go in that direction? I mean, what was it you were -a month after - what was it that you were pushing against?

Mr. KALFUS: Well, I felt this storyline that was being created, this storyline that's so evident in the movie World Trade Center, which I did see - of the story of the attacks being the story of courage, sacrifice and national unity, was in fact just part of the story - an important part of the story, particularly in a time of war - but you know, at a time when people were saying irony was dead, that people could write about this in only on way, I felt that it was important for writers and artists to approach it in another way, to try to find aspects of the events and the tragedy that we might have missed otherwise.

NEARY: This marriage between Marshall and Joyce is a very bitter, a bad marriage, and a very, very bitter divorce, and it sort of seems to become something of a metaphor for the bitter politics of the world right now. Did you intend that?

Mr. KALFUS: There are a lot of metaphors in this novel. Things shift. Yes, at one point the two of them are watching - are thinking - they're watching wars on TV, like the Russian wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, and they look at each other and they think that's exactly how I feel about you. But essentially, a lot of metaphors shift, taking on aspects of recent events, including the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, that sort of thing.

NEARY: How long did it take you to write this? I'm just curious. I mean, were you writing this as events were happening historically?

Mr. KALFUS: More or less. I'm a slow writer. I wrote the first chapter as a short story and didn't really begin it as a novel until a year later, so it took about two and a half years.

NEARY: All right, we are talking about the arts and 9/11. My guest right now is Ken Kalfus, author of A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, and we're going to take a call from Jim, and he's calling from Oklahoma. Hi, Jim.

Mr. KALFUS: Hi, Jim.

JIM (Caller): Hello. Am I on the air?

NEARY: You are. Go ahead.

JIM: My question is that when dealing with an event such as September 11, any tragic event, a war, isn't there a very fine line that we have to walk as concerned, dare I say, moral citizens with making profit, either emotional, physical, static profit, monetary profit from these events? In short, is it too soon to be making profit off September 11, to be watching these movies and reading these books for the specific purpose of pleasure, for making us as the reader more fulfilled?

NEARY: I don't know. Ken, do you have a response to that?

JIM: Well, I can assure you as a writer, there's not much profit involved, but I think that no, it's never soon. It may be too soon for you to read it or go to the movies, but for writers - writers have to respond to the events as they're happening, and if there's - every artist works in the hope of some sort of profit in terms of - so you can continue writing, and I have no problem with that. People have written books and movies about the holocaust, about other wars. There's no reason why 9/11 is untouchable.

NEARY: All right, thanks. Thanks for your call, Jim.

JIM: Yup.

NEARY: I'm curious. I was saying before that when I started reading the book, I wondered if it could've been written - I was surprised you wrote it so quickly, but I was - do you think it could've been published a year after 9/11? I mean, was there any resistance? Did you get pushed back from publishing?

Mr. KALFUS: I did get resistance. I first wrote the first chapter as a short story, and there was some resistance, but you know, I can't say for sure that's because of the subject matter of whatever - or its literary merits. It's always hard to publish something.

So yes, there was some resistance from my editors, but I pushed on and now, as far as I can tell, there's no resistance at all. My publisher is happy to publish it.

NEARY: Yeah. You know, one section of this book that I found very - really interesting, well the way that you drew in the historical events that have occurred since 9/11, you know, over this - really over the past five years. And I don't want to give away the end of the book, but we'll get to that.

But in the middle of the book, one of the characters, the husband - and it's a little hard to explain to those who haven't read it, but he - in the course of trying to get back at his wife, he lays out the case for what many people have described as a new kind of anti-Semitism, and you just lay out the case for that, which seems so relevant at this moment in time. This discussion is going on with the, you know, controversy around Israel and Lebanon. I wonder if you can explain how you got to that and why you brought that into the discussion.

Mr. KALFUS: Well, in the course of the novel, he's trying to actually provoke an argument with several Jewish - you know, with several of the Jews. I don't actually agree with his - I don't at all agree with his arguments.

But he is talking about the evil of Israel in American politics in a way that at the time was not - he was saying was a taboo subject. I actually think we actually are discussing things. I actually think the discussion's moved on a little bit beyond that.

But he's basically asking, he says to these fellows, to these, that he's blaming the World Trade Center on Israeli settlers. That if they hadn't been so piggish about keeping the settlements in the West Bank, maybe there wouldn't have been this terrible tragedy. I'm (unintelligible) as anti-Semitic as much as, well, a little obtuse, but purposely obtuse. But yet, it's a sentiment, I think, many Americans probably did voice, to themselves at least, at the time.

NEARY: You said it's a satire, a dark comedy. Do you think of it as a political book?

Mr. KALFUS: Yes. I mean, politics are part of the novel, but it's not particularly partisan, no.

NEARY: All right. Let's take another call. Chris in Gilbert, Arizona. Chris go ahead.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

NEARY: Go ahead.

CHRIS: I was calling to say I don't understand why people have a problem with having 9/11 in a movie. We all enjoyed - or at least I enjoyed - Schindler's List, which was another terrible tragedy. We've watched Saving Private Ryan. I mean movies of other tragedies and other great events in our world that took a lot of lives and were hard for people to deal with at that time.

And these movies now are showing - politics aside - they show the heroism behind humans, which in today's world where we see, you know, spoiled millionaires we call athletes or gangster rappers singing about mayhem and murder, that's where our kids see as heroes. I think that showing the heroism behind real heroes is not a bad thing.

NEARY: Ken you took a very different tactic in your book than -

Mr. KALFUS: Yes. I think understanding the courage and the sacrifice made by the people at the 9/11 site, the rescue workers, is, in fact, a good thing. And in time of war, which we believe we are in, it is necessary. But we should also understand that reality demands that we also see people as flawed human beings, that we see them as often cowards, that we see people as imperfect husbands, imperfect wives, people like us, in fact.

And without that kind of realism, we get too divorced. You know, the problem with making every victim of 9/11 a hero is that it basically takes their human qualities away from them. It makes them - it deifies them, but it denies the details of their human individuality.

So I think it's important not only to have those films celebrating, you know, courage and self-sacrifice, but also films and books that take more realistic views. And I think that it's important. You know, romantic literature and romantic filmmaking is good in a time of war, but you also need irony and skepticism and putting things in context in order to keep the wars from getting out of hand.

NEARY: All right. Ken thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. KALFUS: My pleasure. Thank you.

NEARY: Ken Kalfus is the author of several novels. His latest takes a satirical look at 9/11. It's called A Disorder Peculiar to the Country. And he joined us from member station WHYY in Philadelphia.

Poet C.K. Williams joins us now. His book of poetry, The Singing, won the National Book Award in 2003. And another book of poetry, Repair, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. His latest, Collected Poems, comes out in November. That's a collection of all his work, which includes two poems about 9/11.

One he wrote right after the attacks and the second a year later. Both put the tragedy into historical context. And now five years later, he says he has changed his perspective again. And he joins us now from Normandy, France. Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. C.K. WILLIAMS (Poet): It's a pleasure.

NEARY: Let me start by asking you just a very broad question. What does poetry bring to this discussion? How does a poet help interpret these kind of events, cataclysmic events like 9/11?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, I think poetry particularly has access to what happened with 9/11 because so much about 9/11 was a symbol. It had to do with various kinds of symbolism. The symbol of America, the symbol of American economic power. And poetry deals with symbols as a matter of course. It's the mechanism we have that connects people's feelings to events.

And so many poets got involved about 9/11, more than about most events. There's been an anthology of poetry. There've been some marvelous poems written about it. And I think that's really why poetry has something to do with it.

NEARY: I wonder if you could read a section of your poem War. The final section, number three, which was written one month after 9/11.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Yeah. It was actually during the month right after 9/11. And it takes place, well, I guess it's self-explanatory.

Fall's first freshness, strange. The season's ceaseless wheel. Starlings starting south, the annealed leaves ready to release, yet still those columns of nothingness rise from their own ruins.

Their twisted carcasses of steel and ash still fume. And still, one by one, tacked up by hopeful lovers, husbands, wives, the absent faces wait, already tattering, fading, going out.

These things that happen in the particle of time we have to be alive. These violations which almost more than any ark or altar embody sanctity by enacting so precisely sanctity's desecration.

These broken voices of bereavement asking of us what isn't to be given. These suddenly smudged images of consonance and peace. These fearful burdens to be borne, complicity, contrition, grief.

NEARY: You know, you seized on an image there that I think still stands for the event, those columns of nothingness rising from the ruins. I think that's that sence of loss that everybody felt. And perhaps we didn't even know everything we were losing.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Yeah. Still, when you go to New York on the train and you look at the lower Manhattan, those towers are somehow still there.

NEARY: You're always looking for them.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, they're there.

NEARY: Yeah. And let's just get you to read from your poem that you wrote a year later called Fear. If you could read the section beginning vermin.

Mr. WILLIAMS: Ok. This is about various kinds of public fear.

Vermin, poison, atrocious death, what different resonance they have in our age of suicide as armament, anthrax, resurrected pox. Every other week brings new warnings, new false alarms. It's hard to know how much to be afraid, or even how.

Once I knew too well. I was of the generation of the bomb. Hiroshima, the broiling bubble at Bikini, ICBM's. The Second World War was barely over. In annihilated cities children just my age still foraged for scraps of bread. And we were being taught that our war would be nuclear. That if we weren't incinerated, the flesh would rot from our bones. By the time Kennedy and Khrushchev faced off over Cuba, rockets primed and aimed, we were sick with it, insane.

And now these bewildering times, when those whose interest is to consternate us hardly bother to conceal their purposes. Yes, we have antagonists, and some of their grievances are just. But is no one blameless? Are we all to be combatants, prey?

NEARY: C.K. Williams, we have to take a short break. When we return I want to talk to you about how your perspective changed between the writing of those two poems. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: Right now we're talking about 9/11 in the arts. And my guest right now is poet C.K. Williams. Just before the break he read portions of two poems he wrote after 9/11. One almost immediately after. Another about a year later. And Mr. Williams, how would you say your perspective changed? What was the difference between those two poems? What were you trying to say and reflect on there?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, in the first one, I think was just a cry of despair at the fact that human beings always manage to perpetuate these things called war. The second one, I think, was a response to the astonishment I felt at how the event of 9/11 has been politicized so completely.

And, well, it still continues to be politicized. I think the problem really is in some ways about what I started talking about before about symbols. About the fact that terrorism really has to do with perception. Everything depends for terrorists on how their acts are perceived and how they're responded to, and what terrorists want is an overreaction, which we've given all too well.

NEARY: Let's see if we can get a call in here from Luke. He's calling us from Detroit, Michigan. Go ahead, Luke.

LUKE (Caller): Yeah, I just wanted to comment on the idea that history itself is an art. I mean, it's not a true science, and without art there's no way to really reflect on what truly happened. I mean you can't leave it up to strictly journalists or, you know, strictly to photographers or any other science. The art itself is part of what makes history real.

NEARY: Mr. Williams, would you like to respond to that?

Mr. WILLIAMS: Well, I think that's very perceptive. It's very true that finally everything filters, our perception of reality filters in one way or another through the artist, through painters and poets particularly, novelists and poets particularly.

NEARY: Ok. Thanks for your call Luke.

LUKE: Thank you.

NEARY: And I wonder if you were to write a poem now, Mr. Williams, would it be very different? Are you working on a 9/11 poem? But if you were to write one would it be quite different in tone from those two and how would it different?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I haven't particularly worked on 9/11 poems. I've written several poems over these last years about what's been happening politically and about Iraq. About Iraq, I wrote a poem called Iraq Cassandra. About how when you're young it's such a great pleasure to have been right about something and that when you get to maturity and you find out that you were right about something like Iraq - as so many people were right - it's actually rather painful rather than pleasurable.

NEARY: So has 9/11 changed, it's changed the world and in that sense does, it also change what you can write, does it affect what you write about because we are all living in the aftermath of 9/11?

Mr. WILLIAMS: I think that - I would say that the fact that we're living as much in the aftermath of 9/11 as we are is a choice that's been made by those who have power over us. I live in France part of the time and we went through a period in the ‘90s when there was pretty regular terror.

And the government took the slant that it was better not to be afraid. Our government took the slant that it's better to be afraid. That's a big difference and I think that that, the reason that we're living in this age of 9/11 has as much to do with that and with the fact that we've managed to produce terrorists more quickly than we're able to get rid of them.

NEARY: All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us today.

Mr. WILLIAMS: It was a pleasure.

NEARY: Poet C.K. Williams is a winner of the National Book Award for The Singing and the Pulitzer for his book Repair. His latest, called Collected Poems, comes out in November and he joined us from Normandy, France.

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