Biography of Carolyn Forché
Carolyn Forché is an American poet, editor, translator, and human rights advocate.
Forché was born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 28, 1950, to Michael Joseph and Louise Nada Blackford Sidlosky. Forché earned a B.A. in International Relations at Michigan State University in 1972, and MFA at Bowling Green State University in 1975. She taught at a number of universities, including Bowling Green State University, Michigan State University, the University of Virginia, Skidmore College, Columbia University, San Diego State University and in the Master of Fine Arts program at George Mason University. She is now Director of the Lannan Center for Poetry and Poetics and holds the Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She lives in Maryland with her husband, Harry Mattison, a photographer.
Forché's first poetry collection, Gathering the Tribes (1976), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition, leading to publication by Yale University Press. In 1977, she traveled to Spain to translate the work of Salvadoran-exiled poet Claribel Alegría. Upon her return, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to El Salvador, where she worked as a human rights advocate. Her second book, The Country Between Us (1981), was published with the help of Margaret Atwood. It received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was also the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. She won the 2006 Robert Creeley Award.
Her articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, Esquire, Mother Jones, Boston Review,and others. Forché has held three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1992 received a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship.
Her anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, was published in 1993, and her third book of poetry, The Angel of History (1994), was chosen for The Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her works include the famed poem The Colonel. She is also a trustee for the Griffin Poetry Prize.
Though Forché is sometimes described as a political poet, she considers herself a poet who is politically engaged. After first acquiring both fame and notoriety for her second volume of poems, The Country Between Us, she pointed out that this reputation rested on a limited number of poems describing what she personally had experienced in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War. Her aesthetic is more one of rendered experience and at times of mysticism rather than one of ideology or agitprop. Forché is particularly interested in the effect of political trauma on the poet's use of language. The anthology Against Forgetting was intended to collect the work of poets who had endured the impress of extremity during the 20th century, whether through their engagements or force of circumstance. These experiences included warfare, military occupation, imprisonment, torture, forced exile, censorship, and house arrest. The anthology, composed of the work of one hundred and forty-five poets writing in English and translated from over thirty languages, begins with the Armenian Genocide and ends with the uprising of the pro-Democracy movement at Tiananmen Square. Although she was not guided in her selections by the political or ideological persuasions of the poets, Forché believes the sharing of painful experience to be radicalizing, returning the poet to an emphasis on community rather than the individual ego. In this she was strongly influenced by Terrence des Pres.
Forché is also influenced by her Slovak family background, particularly the life story of her grandmother, an immigrant whose family included a woman resistance fighter imprisoned during the Nazi occupation of former Czechoslovakia. Forché was raised Roman Catholic and religious themes are frequent in her work.
Among her translations are Mahmoud Darwish's Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems (2003), Claribel Alegría's Sorrow (1999), and Robert Desnos's Selected Poetry (with William Kulik, for the Modern English Poetry Series, 1991).
Her fourth book of poems, Blue Hour, was released in 2003. Forthcoming books include a memoir, The Horse on Our Balcony (2010, HarperCollins), a book of essays (2011, HarperCollins) and a fifth collection of poems, In the Lateness of the World (HarperCollins).
Carolyn Forché's Works:
Women in American Labor History, 1825-1935: An Annotated Bibliography (with Martha Jane Soltow and Murray Massre 1972)
Gathering the Tribes (1976)
History and Motivations of U.S. Involvement in the Control of the Peasant Movement in El Salvador: The Role of AIFLD in the Agrarian Reform Process, 1970-1980 (with Philip Wheaton 1980)
The Country Between Us (1981)
El Salvador: Work of Thirty Photographers (1983)
Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993)
The Angel of History (1994)
Writing Creative nonfiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs (2001)
Blue Hour (2003)
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Carolyn Forché Poems
What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol
The Garden Shukkei-En
By way of a vanished bridge we cross this river as a cloud of lifted snow would ascend a mountain. She has always been afraid to come here.
The page opens to snow on a field: boot-holed month, black hour the bottle in your coat half voda half winter light. To what and to whom does one say yes? If God were the uncertain, would you cling to him?
The Morning Baking
Grandma, come back, I forgot How much lard for these rolls Think you can put yourself in the ground
The Testimony Of Light
Our life is a fire dampened, or a fire shut up in stone. --Jacob Boehme, De Incarnatione Verbi Outside everything visible and invisible a blazing maple.
Poem For Maya
Dipping our bread in oil tins we talked of morning peeling open our rooms to a moment of almonds, olives and wind
In Spanish he whispers there is no time left. It is the sound of scythes arcing in wheat, the ache of some field song in Salvador. The wind along the prison, cautious
Horses were turned loose in the child's sorrow. Black and roan, cantering through snow. The way light fills the hand with light, November with graves, infancy with white. White. Given lilacs, lilacs disappear. Then low voices rising in walls. The way they withdrew from the child's body and spoke as if it were not there.
We rise from the snow where we've lain on our backs and flown like children, from the imprint of perfect wings and cold gowns, and we stagger together wine-breathed into town
Just as he changes himself, in the end eternity changes him. —Mallarmé On the phonograph, the voice of a woman already dead for three
The Memory of Elena
We spend our morning in the flower stalls counting the dark tongues of bells that hang from ropes waiting
The bleached wood massed in bone piles, we pulled it from dark beach and built fire in a fenced clearing.
In the morning of the tribe this name Ancapagari was given to these mountains. The name, then alive, spread into the world and never returned. Ancapagari: no foot-step ever spoken, no mule deer killed from its foothold, left for dead. Ancapagari opened the stones.
Au silence de celle qui laisse rêveur. —René Char By boat to Seurasaari where the small fish were called vendace.
The page opens to snow on a field: boot-holed month, black hour
the bottle in your coat half voda half winter light.
To what and to whom does one say yes?
If God were the uncertain, would you cling to him?
Beneath a tattoo of stars the gate open, so silent so like a tomb.
This is the city you most loved, an empty stairwell
where the next rain lifts invisibly from the Seine.