Award-winning Poet of Witness
Human Rights Advocate
“Carolyn Forché shows how people survive in an unbearable world.”
Renowned as a “poet of witness,” Carolyn Forché is the author of four books of poetry. Her first poetry collection, Gathering The Tribes (Yale University Press, 1976), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. In 1977, she traveled to Spain to translate the work of Salvadoran-exiled poet Claribel Alegría, and upon her return, received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to El Salvador, where she worked as a human rights advocate. Her second book, The Country Between Us (Harper and Row, 1982), received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was also the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Her third book of poetry, The Angel of History (HarperCollins, 1994), was chosen for The Los Angeles Times Book Award. Blue Hour is her fourth collection of poems (HarperCollins, 2003). She is currently at work on a memoir of her years in El Salvador, Lebanon, South Africa and France.
Forché’s anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, was published by W.W. Norton & Co. in 1993. Her translation of Claribel Alegria's work, Flowers From The Volcano, was published by the University Pittsburgh Press in 1983. In 2000, Curbstone Press published a new book of her translations of Alegría, entitled Sorrow. In 1983, Writers and Readers Cooperative (New York and London) published El Salvador: Work of Thirty Photographers, for which she wrote the text. In 1991, The Ecco Press published her translations of The Selected Poetry of Robert Desnos (with William Kulik). She co-translated Selected Poetry of Mahmoud Darwish (University of California Press, 2002), from which a chapbook selection had been published by The Lannan Foundation (2001).
In 1998 in Stockholm, she was given the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture Award, in recognition of her work on behalf of human rights and the preservation of memory and culture. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, Esquire, Mother Jones, and others. Forché has held three fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1992 received a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship.
Carolyn Forché is Lannan Visiting Professor of Poetry and Professor of English at Georgetown University, and lives in Maryland with her husband, photographer Harry Mattison.
About BLUE HOUR (2003)
The title of this collection translates the French phrase for pre-dawn light into a state of mind that turns everything into a hypnopompic dream or bardic state. Forché’s speaker's memories (of childhood, of nursing her son in Paris) are intermingled with ethereal images of 20th century horror, and dosed with a mysticism derived from Heidegger and Buber. This puts her squarely in the territory of visionary abstraction Michael Palmer and Jorie Graham have been mining; like them, Forché is willing to let the contradictions of this technique speak for themselves. "In the Exclusion Zones," for example, is lovely and mysterious in its brevity, but is revealed in the endnotes to refer to the contaminated earth around Chernobyl. The book's tour de force, "On Earth", orders arrhythmic fragments alphabetically over 47 pages in the manner of "gnostic abecedarians," and foregrounds its lyric complications more concretely: "more ominous than any oblivion/mortar smoke mistaken for an orchard of flowering pears." The poems' success ultimately rests in the reader's tolerance for gestures aimed at sensuality and sensibility in the face of atrocity, though the 10 or so shorter poems that precede "On Earth" are more modest in their ambitions, arousing and sating the longing for beauty with fewer attendant complications.