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RESPONSE TO TERROR | A CHANGED AMERICA

Creating in a World Where the Moon Can Fall

The Arts: Sept. 11 may spur a shift toward more serious work. Already, plays are being revised and music rewritten.

December 31, 2001|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It felt good, he said, to be using such things to make art, to be participating in a wider world, "because all that finery which is Arabic and Persian myth is beautiful. I mean, this is what started the Crusades--Europeans were living in caves, and they were living in all this luxury. Now, it feels like the reverse."

Burden said he is playing with some ideas that would reflect current events, but in terms more provocative than comforting. "I'm not always a nice guy," said the man who in 1975 had someone shoot him as a piece of performance art. "I don't think art has a moral imperative."

Playwright Mac Wellman sought to exorcise the influence of Sept. 11 from his students' minds so they could concentrate on other inspirations.

At the end of September, in a playwriting class at Brooklyn College, Wellman instructed his students to spend the next hour writing, "but not about it." When the hour was up, he gave them their real assignment: to turn what they had written into "broken" plays, works that tell a story in fragments, with significant pieces intentionally missing.

Without the crutch of a traditional structure, the writer is forced to say only what is necessary and look at events in a new way. "It seemed very appropriate for the time," he said, "a broken play for a broken world."

Almost all of the pieces that emerged were about Sept. 11, which was what Wellman intended. "I wanted them to get it out of their system so we could move on to their other work."

Wellman says the tragedy will affect his work, but he does not yet know how. "If something was worth doing before this happened, it will be worth doing after it happened," he said. "Maybe someone will write something brilliant, but not for a while. It will require delicacy and indirection, and now is not the time for delicacy and indirection, is it?"

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Adam Zagajewski

Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June's long days,

and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.

The nettles that methodically overgrow

the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

You must praise the mutilated world.

You watched the sylish yachts and ships;

one of them had a long trip ahead of it,

while salty oblivion awaited others.

You've seen the refugees heading nowhere,

you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.

You should praise the mutilated world.

Remember the moments when we were together

in a white room and the curtains fluttered.

Return in thought to the concert where music flared.

You gathered acorns in the park in autumn

and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.

Praise the mutilated world

and the gray feather a thrush lost,

and the gentle light that strays and vanishes

and returns.

*

Excerpted from "Without End" by Adam Zagajewski. Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Copyright 2001 by Adam Zagajewski. All rights reserved.

*

Times staff writer Tim Rutten contributed to this story.

ABOUT THIS SERIES: This is the fourth in an occasional series of stories exploring the effect of the Sept. 11 attacks on various aspects of American society.

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