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So many languages filled my head when I was a child: Malayalam, Hindi, English, French, Arabic. Now those borders are pressing in at the brink of this new century, in a time of war. LB: Memory is a very important theme in your work. How does the lyric poem work with memory? MA: The lyric poem is so tiny. It can be folded onto a bit of paper, put into a notebook, written on the backs of matchboxes. There is something about the portability of the lyric in a time of danger. For me, the lyric becomes the form par excellence in a time of crisis because it can be carried in memory.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the existing socialisms on the way to the world market, the United States became the only hegemonic power in the world capable of maintaining the world order with military and economic might. It seems now that the ideology of economic liberalism does not need to serve the powers that be and can go along with the drift of “benign” capital, with the aids of markets, free trade, transnational organizations, and supranational juridical structures, to achieve the dream of Empire.

In “Petroglyph,” the lines rendered in italics, in the epigram in section IX are drawn from Muriel Rukeyser’s poem “Waterlily Fire”: see section 1 (“The Burning”) and section 2 (“The Island”) (A Muriel Rukeyser Reader, ed. Jan Heller Levi [New York: Norton, 1994], 201, 203). I am grateful to David Harvey for his discussion of Kant in “Cosmopolitanism and the Banality of Geographical Evils,” Public Culture 12 (spring 2000): 529 – 64. The painter of “Riposte” is my friend Cecilia Edefalk. Lyric in a Time of Violence 29 The Poet in the Public Sphere A Conversation with Meena Alexander N E W Y O R K C I T Y, J A N U A R Y 2 0 0 2 The events of September 11 and the aftermath: military retaliation, racial profiling of immigrants and international students, as well as the antiwar organizing in New York City, suddenly brought a new layer of urgency and complexity to our thoughts about artistic creation and critical dissent.

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