No Words and No Poetry in a Poem Made of Words

I do not remember 9/11. I was two years old when it happened, and I have no memory of the event itself. For me, 9/11 was not an outstanding moment in time, but an event that indirectly shaped my life through the culture of my country.

Hammad reading First Writing Since

In her poem “First Writing Since,” Suheir Hammad creates a series of contradictions between an expectation and reality, drawing from the real world political and social ironies after the 9/11 attacks. Opening the poem by immediately introducing irony to the text, she arises a contrast between the stated narrative and the situation actuality. Hammad’s poem begins “1. there have been no words. / i have not written one word / no poetry in the ashes south of canal street. / no prose in the refrigerated trucks driving debris and dna. / not one word” (Hammad 1). Hammad’s first statement denies the existence of words, but by the sheer nature of the medium, her poem consists entirely of words. In addition to the denial of a presence of words, Hammad also denies the presence of poetry and prose. By indicating the absence of these forms of writing, she surfaces a contrast between the lack of meaningful writing and the presence of her work, a piece of reflection. This dissonance that comes from denying an easily observable fact creates an irony, and therefore establishes a disconnect between presented statements and the truth of the matter.

The effect of acknowledging a contrast between words and reality surfaces throughout the poem. Hammad references a vilification of the Middle East from the public and political authorities, citing the assumptions people make about her due to her race and family. To disrupt those assumptions, however, she constantly questions their validity and consequences, referencing the victims of bombing strikes and the presence of prejudice in America (Hammad 2-3). Hammad’s suggestion of the disconnect between a stated narrative and the realities behind it.

Near the end of the poem, Hammad writes “there is no poetry in this. there are causes and effects. there are / symbols and ideologies. mad conspiracy here, and information we will / never know” (Hammad 4). Again denying the poetry in the subject she has quite literally written a poem about, Hammad brings up a reminder of the implicit contrast between words and the truth behind them, noting the symbols, ideologies, conspiracy, and information that shape these contradictions.

9/11 Memorial Wall. "No day shall erase you from the memory of time -Virgil"

Hammad, Suheir. “First Writing Since.” Motion Magazine, 2001.

33 thoughts on “No Words and No Poetry in a Poem Made of Words

  1. Great post! I’m choosing to comment here because we both wrote very similar posts and spoke to vaguely similar topics. In my discussion of contradictory statements made by Hammad, I pulled from section 5, but I did very much enjoy the clear “there are no words” (Hammad 1) contradiction that you mentioned here and had hoped someone would make a post about it.

    Something I did want to bring up: In your final paragraph you discuss Hammad’s use of the phrase “there is no poetry in this” (Hammad 4) by suggesting that it provides readers with, as you said, an “implicit contrast between words and the truth behind them”. I agree with this analysis, and find that single sentence to be a very concrete and short way of expressing a very large idea.
    However, I also wanted to add a second interpretation to the line. I saw it more as a way of Hammad asserting that her poetry is not meant to be taken in and then dismissed as poetry often is. This is furthered by the reading of the work we viewed in class, where Hammad refuses to stop for applause because she doesn’t want applause. She doesn’t feel she needs to be celebrated for this writing. because for her, the racial and religious biases outlined here are facts. They’re real. They don’t deserve recognition the same way a novel does… They need to be noticed and understood.

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