James Penha's Pages
At universities and in secondary schools, in the United States and in Asia, in administration and in the classroom, James Penha has had a fifty-year career as an educator whose enthusiasm for learning and language inspires students and colleagues. His papers on teaching have been widely presented. A native New Yorker living in Indonesia, Penha has published hundreds of poems, stories, and articles throughout these same five decades, and presently he also edits The New Verse News, a website for current-events poetry.
In “5 World Trade Center”, James Penha writes of living in Indonesia and watching the 911 attack and worrying about employees of a Krispy Kreme near the Twin Towers, one he and his companion frequented on trips home to New York City. Reading this poem takes one back to that day almost twenty years ago; yet, it is disconcerting to think of people seeing this at night.
…we watched by night
plane after plane crash into the towers and the
come crashing down and I thought in the
crash of recollections in the hours that
of the sweet servers at Krispy Kreme
The poet repeats “crash,” as three parts of speech with slightly different meanings. The “K” sound is harsh and disruptive, one might think of the difference between hearing about a car accident versus actually hearing an accident. The author does not use “hit” or “flies into” or even “attacks”. Crash encompasses the action, the sounds, the feelings of observers.
In wondering what happened to the “the sweet servers”, a play on their products and their good nature, he expresses the anxiety and helplessness of bystanders. The use of enjambment makes the first few lines breathless; however, a little more than halfway through, the poem turns as he discovers that though the store is gone, the “sweet servers” survived.
…though workers and customers escaped
unharmed and pictures surfaced later
showing trays of donuts waiting still to be told
where to go…
The personification of “donuts waiting” emphasizes the innocence of the victims, emerging from the area, not sure what to do or where to go. How many were too confused to be able to function? The lasting image is of abandoned donuts and cleaning materials, covered with “a profound film of dust,” comprised undoubtedly of building materials, office furniture, office supplies, coffee cups, and those inside the Towers.
—Jane Sellman in her February 2020 review for Neon Books of The Book of Donuts edited by Jason Lee Brown and Shanie Latham.
You can toggle among three videos of poems read by James Penha just below.
"Writing Process," "Bali Kite Festival 2020," "Three Quakes"
Hum Podcast from Rock & Sling
"Father," the poem by James Penha, read by Thom Caraway
Sad Girls Club Literary Podcast
"Chutes and Ladders" read by James Penha
The Good Life Review Podcast
James Penha Interview
In this episode, writer James Penha talks to Fiction Editor Trelana Daniel about caring for an aging family member, death, and utilizing writing as a means to come to terms with difficult topics. Listen in as he reads his piece and discusses being “OK” in this stressful time. Read the entire essay, “Better Off,” in Issue 1 of The Good Life Review.
The Privilege of the Open Road
• Written and read by James Penha.
• Originally published in Philosophy, Travel, and Place: Being in Transit (2018).