E.G. Bailey: “Twin Towers”
by Justin Schell
On this 8th anniversary of the events of 9/11, e.g. bailey has crafted “Twin Towers” an eloquent statement that both captures the emotions and experiences of 9/11 as well as how to respond and remember them.
The piece opens with singer, guitarist and fellow Trú Rúts artist Chastity Brown. She delivers the first part of bailey’s poem, a collage of observations that sound like fragments of a broken news report, the frame through which many saw the events of 9/11.
No death today
No justice come undone
Reports say peace is on the way.
Yet this news report flips the usual broadcasts of death and destruction associated with 9/11, setting the stage for a poem that looks forward to something greater, something better than images of smoking towers. Brown’s dirge-like intonations of “And I watched the buildings crumble,” however, delivered with a voice that itself sounds ash-choked, leads into the body of the poem and takes the listener back to 2001.
bailey does well to navigate the over-loaded and hyper-emotional associations with 9/11, be it jingoistic drum rolls of war, uncritical celebrations and memorializations a la “Patriot Day,” or reactionary conspiracy theories. Instead, he focuses on the bewildering experience of that day, bodies and towers falling from the Manhattan sky. He wonders “whose truth to trust” as the poem’s narrator goes “stumbling through the fog” (one of more than just ash, smoke, and debris), while children and lovers suddenly find themselves alone.
The other theme of “Twin Towers” is how to remember these events, be it 8 or 80 years afterwards. bailey calls for unity, a familiar theme of course in 9/11 responses, but his has a critical edge. The unity he calls for is not for a nation to wage war in hopes of short-sighted revenge, but rather a call to humanity, his words moving swiftly from the individuals itself who died in the events 9/11 and, presumably, in America’s response to it, but rather a unity to stop these events from ever happening again without perpetuating violence, “no matter the politics of color or creed.” It is a tone of remembrance that cannot be captured by commemorative “never forget” anniversaries or lapel pins, but rather a remembrance that is as much about actively and peacefully shaping the future as it is about the past.
There are two versions of “Twin Towers,” one with the poem recorded by Twin Cities spoken word godfather J. Otis Powell, the other by bailey himself. While the words are the same, the difference is palpable. Powell’s delivery is deeper, more measured, adding a gravity and weight to the words simply through his bass intonation alone. bailey’s version, while no less meaningful or emotional, is slightly faster, and reflects more the mental state of someone actual experiencing the events, be it in person or through a screen, while Powell’s sounds much more reflective and pondering. Both versions, however, are a powerful testament not only to the past, present, and future of 9/11, but also of bailey’s skill of mobilizing poetry for contemplation, remembrance, and subtle, but no less insistent calls for action.
Originally posted on 612 to 651 blog on 11 September 2009.