The Chinese American writer Maxine Hong Kingston once wrote, “In a time of destruction, create something.” I thought about Kingston’s words of advice as I was reading the poems included in Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath, a new anthology co-edited by Joseph Bathanti, a former North Carolina Poet Laureate, and David Potorti, a co-founder of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. The anthology includes works by 116 poets from across North Carolina, including many poets from the Charlotte area. The contributors to this anthology all responded to the destruction associated with 9/11 by creating poetry. Some of their poems are about loss—the loss of loved ones, the loss of landmarks, the loss of a sense of security. Some of their poems are about the personal experiences of the poets on that tragic day. Some of the poems are reflections on how the events of 9/11 have changed our lives, beliefs, and values. All of the poems are moving in their own way. For more information about this anthology, please click on this link: https://www.press53.com/anthologies/1w771a3bujbgbwgm9ki563j09zpbs7
I first found out about this anthology from Joseph Bathanti. He contacted me at the beginning of July and informed me that Press 53 would be publishing this anthology on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers, and we have been corresponding since then. I agreed to feature the anthology in my Storied Charlotte blog, and he agreed to send me more background information about the anthology and its Charlotte connections. Here is what Joseph sent to me:
Crossing the Rift: North Carolina Poets on 9/11 & Its Aftermath had its genesis in September of 2010, just prior to the ninth anniversary of 9/11. David Potorti, then the Arts Tourism Manager at the North Carolina Arts Council (NCAC), and I agreed to assemble a complement of poems to memorialize the tenth anniversary of 9/11. By June of 2011, we had concrete plans; and, in August of 2011, we sent out the call to poets across North Carolina: “to commemorate and acknowledge in poetry the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11 … a poem that in some way [touched] directly on the events of 9/11 or [reflected] associated themes of peace, hope, reconciliation, loss, etc.” The harvested poems were posted, in the order they arrived, each day leading up to 9/11, on the Poet Laureate section of NCAC’s blog.
In early January of 2021, David and I decided to revive and radically expand our earlier 9/11 project into a print anthology. The twentieth anniversary of 9/11 was approximately eight months off, so we had to move with dispatch. A few days later, we contacted Kevin Watson, editor and publisher of the brilliant Press 53 in Winston-Salem, and secured his enthusiastic pledge to publish the book. On January 31, David and I sent out the call to North Carolina poets requesting poems for the proposed anthology centered upon the original thrust of its much smaller digital predecessor, but that also took into account the exponential collateral fallout spawned by 9/11 over the past twenty years: Islamophobia, the vilification of immigrants and the undocumented, ramped-up xenophobia, nationalism and isolationism, two wars and supercharged military budgets that continue to impoverish our nation, as well as concurrent rises in homophobia, transphobia, virulent racism, and domestic terrorism. It was our hope that the invited poets would craft poems with those themes in mind and through the lenses of their experiences and lived lives, and in inimitable ways. The poems, from 116 poets, poured in from all over North Carolina and from extraordinarily diverse vantages and voices. The yield was extraordinary, wildly varied, uniformly moving.
A number of the contributors in Crossing the Rift are from Charlotte and those precincts surrounding it (including a robust cohort from Davidson): Tony Abbott, Peter Blair, Ann Campanella, Christopher Davis, M Scott Douglass, Brenda Flanagan, Irene Honeycutt, Stephen Knauth, Rebecca McClanahan, Tootsie O’Hara, Alan Michael Parker, Gail Peck, Diana Pinckney, Dannye Romine Powell, Gretchen Pratt, Julie Suk, Chuck Sullivan, Gilda Morena Syverson, Richard Taylor, Dede Wilson, and Lisa Zerkle.
I still number myself among these wonderful writers, since Charlotte, from 1976 to 1985, is where I cut my teeth as a writer. In 1976, newly arrived in Charlotte from my hometown in Pittsburgh, 23 years old – a brand new VISTA Volunteer with the North Carolina Prison System – I barged into the newsroom of The Charlotte Observer on Tryon Street downtown and presented myself to Dannye Romine, the then Book Editor for the Observer. I dreamt of a foothold as a writer, clawing for any kind of smiling encouragement and validation from the likes of writers as charitable, humble, and quietly luminous as Dannye. She delivered it in spades and has remained a powerful influence all these years. Central Piedmont Community College is where I first taught, and where Irene Honeycutt was its acknowledged virtuoso poet who taught creative writing. She magnanimously made space for me, a complete rookie, and eventually and so graciously allowed me to teach creative writing. I was in awe of Chuck Sullivan, a tough, gritty poet, a Northeast Catholic boy like me, who read his work so inimitably. Tony Abbott invited me to teach a prison literature course with him at Davidson College, encouraged me to keep writing, and advocated for me for the rest of his storied life.
Charlotte is where I had my first successes as a writer, where I was allowed to claim that mantle and not feel pretentiously unworthy (though I often felt unworthy), where I would go on to meet so many of the esteemed and kind poets mentioned above and call them my friends. Charlotte is where I initially discovered the glorious community of writers that exemplify the elegance and generosity that characterize the literary community of North Carolina.
I thank Joseph for providing the readers of my Storied Charlotte blog with his inside story about the editing of Crossing the Rift and for sharing his experiences as a young writer in Charlotte. Today Joseph is the McFarlane Family Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Education at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. However, in my mind, he belongs to Storied Charlotte’s pantheon of poets.