“POET OF WITNESS” WHO DOCUMENTS POLITICAL VIOLENCE IN HER POETRY
NYS Writers Institute, January 30, 2014
4:15 p.m. Seminar | Standish Room, Science Library, Uptown Campus
8:00 p.m. Reading | Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, Uptown Campus
Carolyn Forché, a poet who has used her art to document firsthand experiences of political strife and violent conflict around the globe, will read from a new anthology on Thursday, January 30, 2014, at 8 p.m. in the Recital Hall, Performing Arts Center, on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. Earlier that same day at 4:15 p.m., the author will present an informal seminar in the Standish Room, Science Library, on the uptown campus. Free and open to the public, the events are sponsored by the New York State Writers Institute.
Carolyn Forché has written poetry about her firsthand experiences of political strife and violent conflict in places around the globe, including El Salvador, South Africa and Lebanon. She has also sought broader exposure for the work of other poets throughout history who have witnessed and documented atrocities.
After two years spent investigating human rights abuses in El Salvador (1978-80), Forché coined the term, “the poetry of witness”— now in wide circulation— to describe this special role for her art. Her 1981 collection of poems about El Salvador, The Country Between Us, was published with the encouragement and assistance of Margaret Atwood, and became a national bestseller. It also received the Academy of American Poets’ Lamont Poetry Prize and the Poetry Society’s di Castagnola Award.
Most recently, Forché is the co-editor with Duncan Wu of a new anthology, Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 – 2001 (2014), featuring 300 poems “composed at an extreme of human endurance—while their authors awaited execution, endured imprisonment, fought on the battlefield ...” Alongside Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth, the volume includes such writers as Anne Askew, tortured and executed for her religious beliefs during the reign of Henry VIII; Phillis Wheatley, abducted by slave traders; William Blake, who witnessed the Gordon Riots of 1780; and Samuel Menashe, survivor of the Battle of the Bulge.
The book is a companion to Forché’s landmark 1993 anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness. Nelson Mandela said in advance praise, “Poetry cannot block a bullet or still a sjambok, but it can bear witness to brutality—thereby cultivating a flower in a graveyard. Carolyn Forché’s Against Forgetting is itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice. It bears witness to the evil we would prefer to forget, but never can—and never should.”
In addition to The Country Between Us (1981), Forché’s own poetry collections include Gathering the Tribes (1976), winner of the Yale Younger Poets competition; The Angel of History (1994), winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award; and Blue Hour (2003), which the L. A. Times Book Review called, “An eerily beautiful, bruised and persuasive book.” The Lannan Visiting Professor of Poetry and Professor of English at Georgetown University, Forché is working currently on a forthcoming collection, In the Lateness of the World.
Forché is also the 2013 winner of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship for “distinguished poetic achievement.” In bestowing the prize, Academy Chancellor Juan Felipe Herrera said, “For her steady gaze into the abyss and for her crafted house of awakened human heavens where she calls us to live, we celebrate and recognize Carolyn Forché and her heroic career.”
Previous Visit: December 10, 2003
For additional information, contact the Writers Institute at 518-442-5620 or online at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst.