In honor of National Poetry Month, I’d like to introduce those of you who aren’t familiar, to a poet I greatly admire and who has in many ways influenced my writing.
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1950, poet, teacher and activist Carolyn Forché has witnessed, thought about, and put into poetry some of the most devastating events of twentieth-century world history. An articulate defender of her own aims as well as the larger goals of poetry, Forché is perhaps best-known for coining the term “poetry of witness.” In her ground-breaking anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993). In 1998 in Stockholm, she received the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture Award for her human rights advocacy and the preservation of memory and culture.
In 2015 I was fortunate in having the opportunity to not only meet but also learn from such an inspirational poet. While attending her workshops and listening as she spoke about what she’d witnessed while spending two years (1978-1980) in El Salvador investigating how human rights were being abused, left me in awe. I was intrigued by her story telling of the events she witnessed which is in part what has influenced me to write mainly about what I know, by sharing my lived experiences. (Featured in the photo below: Me, author/musician Christian Kiefer and Carolyn Forche).
The following is a brief preview and analysis of Against Forgetting according to “poets.org”.
Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness collects poetry by over 140 poets who, according to the anthology’s editor Carolyn Forché, “endured conditions of historical and social extremity during the twentieth century—through exile, state censorship, political persecution, house arrest, torture, imprisonment, military occupation, warfare, and assassination.” By gathering work that she defines as, “poetic witness to the dark times in which they [the authors] lived,” Forché intended Against Forgetting to reveal the ways in which tragic events leave marks upon the imagination. Even in poems that do not explicitly take historical events as their subject matter, tragedy’s after-image floats beneath the surface of the language.
Against Forgetting is organized according to historical tragedy, starting with the Armenian Genocide and proceeding through the twentieth century to the pro-democratic demonstrations in China. Each section is preceded by a short statement that gives historical background for the events in order to place the poems in a proper context. Within the sections, the poets are organized chronologically according to their year of birth and Forché presents a brief biographical note elucidating the poet’s personal experiences with the historical situation.
Quotes regarding her work:
In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing.
About the dark times.