Invitation to Ground Zero

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Perry
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Invitation to Ground Zero

Post by Perry » Mon Jul 08, 2019 11:28 am

I need some help interpreting this poem. Can someone tell me who "she" is? I would say that "she" is the mannequin, but the second stanza seems to suggest that "she" and the mannequin are separate things. To make matters worse, "mannequin" can be spelled as "manikin" and "mannikin". A "mannikin" is also a type of bird. Are there layers in this poem I'm not quite grasping?


Invitation To Ground Zero

Into the smouldering ruin now go down:
And walk where once she walked and breathe the air
She breathed that final day on the burning stair
And follow her, beyond the fleeing crowds,
Into the fire, and through the climbing clouds.

Into the smouldering ruin now go down:
And find, in ashes bright as hammered tin,
A buried bone-white naked mannikin
That flung from some shop window serves to bind
Her body, and its beauty, to your mind.

William Jay Smith

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In my opinion, the punctuation of this poem is very poor. If I had written it, here is the punctuation and capitalization that I would have used:

Into the smouldering ruin now go down,
and walk where once she walked, and breathe the air
she breathed that final day on the burning stair,
and follow her beyond the fleeing crowds,
into the fire and through the climbing clouds.

Into the smouldering ruin now go down,
and find, in ashes bright as hammered tin,
a buried bone-white naked mannikin
that, flung from some shop window, serves to bind
her body and its beauty to your mind.
Last edited by Perry on Tue Jul 09, 2019 11:21 am, edited 4 times in total.
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

Leaf

Re: Invitation to Ground Zero

Post by Leaf » Mon Jul 08, 2019 6:11 pm

Hi Perry,

I shall try :)

I think 'she' is a woman who died (on 9/11). The poet's invitation is to the reader's imagination; he's inviting the reader to pursue a ghost.

Yes, 'she' and the 'mannikin' are separate things. I hadn't seen that spelling ('mannikin') before. When I google 'mannikin', I'm informed that 'mannikin is sometimes confused with mannequin'. I think the poet chose this spelling because the 'k' is an echo of the 'k' in 'naked' (maybe).

I'd be surprised if the poet had intended to refer to the 'small waxbill of the Old World tropics', because the details that come after the 'mannikin' seem so relevant to the 'mannequin' meaning. However, I also read that the 'mannikin' (bird) is 'often kept as a cage bird', which might provide some sort of layer. The 'she' of the poem might be described as caged insofar as her ghost cannot leave Ground Zero, but that could be a bit of a stretch :? (not sure)

Anyway, I hope this is useful; perhaps more experienced poets will take a look too :)

Best wishes,
Leaf

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Perry
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Re: Invitation to Ground Zero

Post by Perry » Tue Jul 09, 2019 12:07 am

Leaf, I think you are absolutely correct, and now the meaning seems quite obvious. The author is grieving a woman he knew, and probably had a relationship with, who died on 9/11. In the second stanza, he is inviting the reader to visualize her as one of the many mannequins in shop windows that were destroyed on 9/11. What a haunting poem.

I seem to be cursed with a very literal mind that doesn't grasp subtleties easily. It is one of the reasons I can't write a poem that is even slightly enigmatic.

I was living in NYC during 9/11, and I worked in both World Trade Center buildings at different times. In the basement there were many shops, and some of them had mannequins.

For me, the most haunting words in the poem are "burning stair". I think I'll try to locate the author. (I just learned he is dead now.)

You are very insightful.
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

Leaf

Re: Invitation to Ground Zero

Post by Leaf » Tue Jul 09, 2019 6:44 pm

Thanks, Perry :)

Yes, I too have the impression that the poet had a relationship with the woman, especially as he mentions 'Her body', a hint of intimacy there. I agree that it's haunting; I think the invitation element is very effective.

Subtleties are tricky things. I felt able to come up with a couple of guesses on this poem because it's quite short, but I'm easily overwhelmed by longer pieces.

It seems strange now, but I'd never thought that the World Trade Center had shops, just floors upon floors of offices. Well, I'm embarrassed to mention that I hadn't heard of the twin towers until I saw the news reports on 9/11. I wasn't sure it was real, so I had to ring my mum, who swiftly enlightened me :oops:

There's quite a lot of information about William Jay Smith at the Poetry Foundation (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/william-jay-smith), as well as poems, prose, and other things.

Best wishes,
Leaf

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Re: Invitation to Ground Zero

Post by Perry » Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:18 am

I've been looking at Smith's poems.

I just want to say that the World Trade Center was, in my opinion, a building complex with bad karma. The city used eminent domain to rip up an entire neighborhood to build it -- block after block after block of apartment buildings and businesses were torn down and displaced. The buildings themselves were ugly and industrial, with a very poor design scheme. They didn't have a human scale. The shopping concourse in the basement was actually the most human part of the entire thing.
If I don't critique your poem, it is probably because I don't understand it.

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