Monday, May 18, 2020

Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché was raised near Detroit in a Slovak/Irish home that was immersed in the Catholic faith. In adolescence she rebelled against the harsh Catholicism of her family, school and church, and began reading Protestant theologians ― seeking to make her faith her own. During her time at university she wandered, unsettled and distant from the surety of her isolated Catholic community, dabbling in various religious traditions.

In 1978 she travelled to El Salvador ― on a Guggenheim Fellowship with Amnesty International ― believing this was something God was asking her to do. She met the poet and priest Óscar Romero, and the self-sacrificing, joyful, oppressed Salvadoran people. This transformed her spiritual life, and drew her back into the Catholic church. Later, when she returned to the US, she tried to be a journalist, to communicate what was going on in El Salvador, as Óscar Romero had asked her to do. She failed; however, she had been writing poetry, and through it she began to shed light on the atrocities.

She had won the Yale Younger Poets Prize for her first book Gathering the Tribes (1975), and through her new book, The Country Between Us (1981) fulfilled the commission Romero gave her prior to his assassination in 1980.

She has since coined the term “Poetry of Witness,” and edited the anthology of politically-charged poems Against Forgetting (1993). Her fifth collection, In the Lateness of the World (2020), has just been published by Penguin Press.

The following poem is from her collection Blue Hour (2003)


Begin again among the poorest, moments off, in another
-----time and place.
Belongings gathered in the last hour, visible invisible:
Tin spoon, teacup, tremble of tray, carpet hanging from
-----sorrow’s balcony.
Say goodbye to everything. With a wave of your hand,
-----gesture to all you have known.
Begin with bread torn from bread, beans given to the
-----hungriest, a carcass of flies.
Take the polished stillness from a locked church, prayer
-----notes left between stones.
Answer them and hoist in your net voices from the
-----troubled hours.
Sleep only when the least among them sleeps, and then
-----only until the birds.
Make the flatbed truck your time and place. make the least
-----daily wage your value.
Language will rise then like language from the mouth of a
-----still river. No one’s mouth.
Bring night to your imaginings. bring the darkest passage
-----of your holy book.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection is Ampersand (2018, Cascade). His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock, including the anthologies The Turning Aside, and Adam, Eve, & the Riders of the Apocalypse.