Manuscript Consultation Program Alum: Beth SKMorris

Beth SKMorris was at work on a series of poems about 9/11 when she decided to participate in our Manuscript Consultation Program. She worked with Bettina Judd, who encouraged her to expand her project into a full-length manuscript. With that encouragement, Beth completed In the Aftermath – 9/11 Through a Volunteer’s Eyes and published it in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. We wanted to know more about Beth’s publishing journey, and conducted the following interview…

Black Lawrence Press: Your collection of poetry is titled In the Aftermath – 9/11 Through a Volunteer’s Eyes. It was published in September 2021, on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Many readers have been trained to separate the personas within poems from the author. However, you make it clear on your website, and in the title of the book itself, that this is an autobiographical poetry collection. How did you decide to tell this story in poems rather than another form?

Beth SKMorris: First of all, I would say that this collection is not just an “autobiographical” journey through the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 since most of the poems come out of my interactions with other people, places, and events that were part of the tragedy of 9/11 over a period of twenty years. In the Aftermath can best be categorized as “poetry of witness” in the tradition of Siegfried Sassoon (WWI). As for, “why poetry?” I did not give myself permission to write about 9/11 until I returned to NYC in 2013, certainly not in a narrative/prose form. My “way in” to speaking about my volunteer experience at the Ground Zero Relief Project, the warehouse that secured and delivered supplies to the first responders and recovery crews at Ground Zero, was initially through short poems–haiku and tanka, which, over the next five years, with the help of poetry workshops at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference, The Palm Beach Poetry Festival, a Black Lawrence Press consultation with Bettina Judd, and elsewhere, allowed me to expand the collection into other poetic forms: sonnets, odes, hybrids…Poetry allowed me to close the distance between the poems and the reader because of its immediate sensory impact. As Elizabeth Bishop once wrote, “Poets tell the truth.”

BLP: You’ve dedicated your book to… “the First Responders, recovery workers, & volunteers who assisted in the cleanup of Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001.” What was it like writing about a catastrophic event that so many people experienced?

BS: Writing this book was more than “difficult.” It was like having root canal in the dentist’s office without anesthesia. Each poem was worked and reworked, workshopped and re-workshopped over a period of almost five years because of my obligation to make every poem, every line faithful and true to the impact of 9/11 on the first responders, recovery crews, volunteers, victims and survivors.

BLP: Many New York writers have said that they could not address 9/11 in their work for years after the events. Earlier this year, in a Black Lawrence Press workshop, a participant said they’re still not ready to write about it. How did you know that you were ready to write this book and what advice do you have for authors who are attempting to write about traumatic events?

BS: Elie Wiesel did not publish Night until fifteen years after the Holocaust. In the preface to the 25th anniversary edition of Night the editor, Robert McAfee Brown, wrote the following: “When Night was finally published over twenty-five years ago, few people wanted to read about the Holocaust. Such depressing subject matter. But we cannot indefinitely avoid depressing subject matter, particularly if it is true…” The writer who feels the need to tell the truth, to bear witness, is willing to live with the pain of bearing witness, but the telling of these tragic events, both personal and universal, can also be cathartic for the writer; especially in coping with PTSD and/or “survivor’s guilt.”

BLP: Please tell us about your revision process. How did Bettina Judd assist you?

BS: A year into writing my 9/11 poems, I only had about 25 pages and I thought the manuscript would wind up as a chapbook entitled, The Pile based on the term the recovery crews used for the debris from the Twin Towers at Ground Zero. At this point, I signed up for a Black Lawrence Press manuscript consultation with Bettina Judd. Her review of the ten/twelve poems submitted was insightful on several levels. She encouraged me “not to hold back” or self-edit my writing, to include more of myself in the poems, and she supported the work as a whole as a story that must be told. Bettina was also the first person to suggest that the “project” was worthy of a full-length effort.
Of course, without the feedback from my instructors and fellow workshop participants at Hudson Valley Writers Center and other poetry groups, I never would have been able to shape a collection worthy of publication.

BLP: What has been the biggest joy that came as a result of publishing In the Aftermath?

BS: No “joy,” just satisfaction that the book has received recognition- from four/five star reviews (US Review of Books, Goodreads, etc.) to awards like Pinnacle, Book Excellence, Firebird. Even an Eric Hoffer Finalist. But the best news I received was last year when the Library of Congress included In the Aftermath in their archive, “The Poetry of 9/11.” My greatest satisfaction comes from continued support for the survivors and their families, providing a voice for the first responders and recovery crews who continue to suffer and die from the toxic effects of Ground Zero. I am an ongoing contributor to the Facebook group, The New Victims of 9/11, and I continue to participate in podcasts, readings, and events that keep 9/11/2001 alive in the hearts and minds of Americans. To this end, my book is available to purchase from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum store as well as through the NYC Fire Museum.

BLP: If you could, is there anything you wish you could change about your publishing experience? Or anything you wish you could have done differently? I ask these questions because many of our readers are currently in the process of submitting or publishing their manuscripts; and, of course, one of the best ways to learn is by hearing
about others’ experiences.

BS: Because traditional publishers were not interested in this book within the timeframe I needed (publication to coincide with the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in 2021), I opted for a small, independent publisher whose track record was excellent and whose work I knew from their publishing reputation and my own submissions to their magazine- Poetica Publishing. Their editing, cover design, layout was exceptional and I am happy with the quality of the final product, but–you pay a price for going the small press route. Most don’t have the resources to fully promote your book. I must say the majority of sales came from my own efforts to reach out to friends, colleagues, organizations, despite the great reviews and awards. It’s very much like “presidential endorsements”–they don’t really make a difference at the polls! You have to hustle.

BLP: What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

BS: Hands down, I finally got to immerse myself in Mary Karr’s, The Liar’s Club. Talk about telling Truth!


Interested in participating in our manuscript consultation program?

Learn about this month’s consultants right here.



Selections from In the Aftermath


Window Washers


Before the scaffolding came down,

workmen straddled the skyscraper.

Fearless artists with rags, sprays,

and squeegees. Masterpiece restorers

erasing the amateur touch-up

from the surface of a painting

found in an old farmer’s attic,

revealing an Eakins or Grandma Moses

under the grime, construction dust,

smoke from factories carried by wind

and rain across the harbor.

Each pane of glass transformed

into a crystal reflecting sunlight

off the river’s tides.


Before the Towers came down,

the window washers

could not imagine

their workmanship would enable

the pilots to pinpoint their targets.

Expose the office workers

behind the casements

to their approaching death,

from both sides of the glass.

They could only watch

their artistry descend,

decay return;

debris, dust,

and ash.


Side Effects


The fumes

assault me

each time I enter

the warehouse

Noxious air

that seeps

through my mask

Nothing is familiar

in that stench

until the fireman

rushes past me

impatient to change gear

get back on the Pile

I hand him

a fresh jacket

“What’s that smell?”

I ask

“Is it gas?”

He turns to me

puts his hand 

on my shoulder

shouts over the chaos—


Not gas

Human methane


At the Memorial


Vesey Street station.

Force yourself to climb the steps,

Turn towards the Towers,

Now calm, clean, tourist-ready.

For you, still smoke and wreckage.




Three thousand photos.

Dress uniforms, wedding gowns

Bind the museum walls.

Youth rising above the Pit,

Lives descending into stone.



Beth SKMorris is the author of: In the Aftermath – 9/11 Through a Volunteer’s Eyes in commemoration of the 20th anniversary; a Pinnacle, Firebird, Book Excellence Award Winner now included in the Library of Congress archive-Poetry of  9/11. Beth holds degrees in English Language & Literature and a Ph.D in Speech, Language, & Hearing Science. In the Aftermath is available for purchase on Amazon Books. Beth can be found at, on LinkedIn and Facebook.