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Reading Recap: On the coattails of her words – Carolyn Forché

Upcoming HoCoPoLitSo Events

  • Film - Robert Bly - A Thousand Years of Joy March 9, 2017 Howard County Library System, HCLS Miller Branch, 9421 Frederick Rd, Ellicott City, MD 21042, USA Check back for the exact time of this event. Poet Robert Bly stands out even among the celebrated, revolutionary generation of American artists who burst forth in the 1950s; A Thousand Years of Joy charts Bly’s singular path from farmer’s son on a wintry Minnesota farm to radical anti-Vietnam War activist to wild man of…
  • Wilde Reading at the Art Center in Long Reach, Columbia, Md. March 14, 2017 at 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm 6100 Foreland Garth, Columbia, MD 21045 Wilde Readings is Howard County's only monthly reading and open mic series. Join us as we celebrate the writing life with a pair of married poets, Virginia Crawford and Sam J. Schmidt. Laura Shovan is this month's host.
  • National Carry a Poem in your Pocket Day April 27, 2017 Be sure to carry a poem in your pocket on April 27 for Poem In Your Pocket Day. Don't keep it there, take it out and share it with all and let them also enjoy the power of poetry.

Upcoming Regional Literary Events

  • LPR Salon - Alice Bowman on Pluto February 27, 2017 at 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth, Columbia, MD 21045, USA Bowman, the New Horizons Mission operations manager, will talk about the voyage of NASA’s historic mission to Pluto, which led to the first flight past the distant dwarf planet on July 14, 2015. Experience this journey through the eyes of the mission operations team as Bowman describes some of the challenges of piloting the small…
  • LPR Salon - Food and Film With Mike Giuliano and Marie Westhaver March 13, 2017 at 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth, Columbia, MD 21045, USA If you haven’t experienced Giuliano and Westhaver’s film talks, then you are in for a (literal) treat! Back by popular demand, this presentation marks the sixth time this dynamic duo has shared their film knowledge and expertise with our salon groups. Giuliano and Westhaver will be sharing their knowledge about food as a topic in…
© Don J. Usner / Blue Flower Arts

© Don J. Usner / Blue Flower Arts

When poetry lovers attended a Carolyn Forché reading Oct. 30, they probably expected gorgeous wordplay. But beyond the language, the world’s troubles — even those we didn’t know about — were laid bare.

Should we expect any less from the writer who coined the phrase “poetry of witness”?

At HoCoPoLitSo’s most recent event in the annual fall Lucille Clifton Reading Series, Forché gave HoCoPoLitSo audiences an exclusive — a reading from her yet-unpublished manuscript, In the Lateness of the World.

The whole world crept into the theater on the coattails of her words: the refugees fleeing Syria in flimsy rubber boats and her grandmother’s crossing of the Atlantic to reach Ellis Island, the siege of Sarajevo and the resistance of the Russian poet Pushkin.

Despite being thick into recovery from pneumonia, Forché delivered a forceful reading of her work, and answered questions for half an hour after the reading with the audience about how she helps translate poetry from Vietnamese, Bulgarian and Arabic, the tradition of oral poetry and human rights around the world. Even in the questions from the audience, in which one poetry lover talked about the thousands of annual deaths along the Rio Grande, the world’s woes were evident.

Author of two collections of poetry of witness, including the seminal Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993) and the more recent Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 to 2001 (2014), Forché has always been both a human rights advocate and a poet.

During the afternoon’s taping of HoCoPoLitSo’s The Writing Life, a thirty-minute writer-to-writer talk show hosted by Grace Cavalieri (also the host of the Library of Congress’ The Poet and the Poem: https://www.loc.gov/poetry/media/poetpoem.html), Forché talked about her beginnings, and about “my poet’s responsibility.”

She talked with Cavalieri about winning a Guggenheim, meeting someone in California who talked with her about El Salvador, and about voyaging to Central America to find out what was happening. Turns out, it was death squads, the military dictatorship’s brutality and an impending revolution. She began writing to Amnesty International, and putting poems on paper. Those experiences gave rise to her book The Country between Us (1981), which became that rarest of birds, a poetry bestseller.

At the tail end of the question session after her reading, a student asked, “What would you tell young poets of witness?”

“Stay open, stay awake,” Forché said, and don’t think you have to travel the world to find trouble. There’s plenty here at home. “Enlarge your capacity for empathy.”

“Poetry,” she told Cavalieri during The Writing Life taping, is “the natural prayer of the human soul,” and can work to heal the world.

Let’s hope.

— Susan Thornton Hobby,
Recording secretary

 

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