Help HoCoPoLitSo Happen

an English major goes to a literary reading for the first time

Author Belinda McKeon reading on stage at the 39th Annual Irish Evening – photo by Lee Waxman

A guest blog written by Christina Smith, a student in Professor Ryna May’s literature class at Howard Community College

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Admittedly, I had never attended a literary reading prior to the HoCoPoLitSo Irish Evening on February 10th. I hope that it is not too shocking that I say this, given that I am an English major. So, I am happy that I finally had the opportunity to experience a literary reading at the 39th Irish Evening held at the Smith Theater at Howard Community College.

Before I went I knew little about the program, only that the author would read from at least one of her two books, and that there would be Irish music and dancing for entertainment. Even though my friend Amy and I were probably some of the youngest people to attend that night, I did not feel awkward there. On the faces of the people there, you could tell everyone was having a fantastic time. The entire evening was a hit.

Catherine McLoughlin-Hayes, Ambassador Anne Anderson, and Susan Thorton Hobby at the 39th Annual Irish Evening- photo by Lee Waxman

I was shocked to see that the program boasted the Ambassador of Ireland, her Excellency Anne Anderson. She was very gracious, and it was impressive that Mrs. Anderson was able to join us for the Irish Evening despite her busy schedule. A list of her accomplishments made me feel lazy and slightly light-headed at the enormity of her dedication to civil rights and women’s right’s worldwide.

While I like to think myself well read, I had not been made familiar with Belinda McKeon’s work. It was a treat to have her read from both her books, Solace and Tender. I was quite taken with her reading from Tender as I could feel the insecurities that her characters suffered from, the anguish of unrequited love and how truly awkward it is to be a young 18-year-old. She was witty and kind with her characters, as though greeting an old friend. Hearing the author read her own work gives you an idea of how those characters really present themselves in her mind. From her reading, the audience got a feel that these characters were real, that they had pains, hopes, flaws, and humor.

I loved the reading from Tender so much that I even ordered it from Amazon when I got home. Now when I read it, I will have the added pleasure of knowing how the author intended for it to be read. And in a way I will be able to connect with the characters on a more personal level.

The evening wrapped up with a performance from the Narrowbacks and Irish step dancing by the Culkin School. The music was traditional Irish music, a perfect nightcap to a fantastic evening.

I admit that I got some strange looks when I told people about my Friday night, but it was definitely worth it to let my inner nerd have a fun evening.  I look forward to attending more events produced by the HoCoPoLitSo.

And a big thank you to Professor May for making it possible for me and a plus one to attend.

By Christina Smith

Tyehimba Jess to read at HoCoPoLitSo’s 9th Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival

HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for its ninth annual Blackbird Poetry Festival is award winning writer and slam poet Tyehimba Jess. The Blackbird Poetry Festival, to be held April 27, 2017, on the campus of Howard Community College, is a day devoted to verse, with student workshops, book sales, readings and patrols by the poetry police. The Sunbird poetry reading, featuring Mr. Jess, as well as Washington, D.C., writer and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller and Howard Community College students, will start at 2:30 p.m. Mr. Jess will read from and discuss his most recent work, Olio, as well as leadbelly, winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series, during the Nightbird Poetry Reading, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts. Nightbird admission tickets are $15 each (students and seniors are $10) available on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2551545 or by sending a self-addressed envelope and check payable to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044.

Tyehimba Jess, Associate Professor of English at College of Staten Island, a Cave Canem and NYU alumnus, received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship. He is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team. With rare skill, Jess welds the immediacy of slam poetry with the craft of poetry on the page.

Jess is the author of two poetry collections: leadbelly (2004), a biography in poems of the legendary blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, and Olio (2016), about African American performers from before the Civil War up to World War I.  About Olio, 2011 National Book award winner Nikky Finney said: “Tyehimba Jess is inventive, prophetic, wondrous. He writes unflinchingly into the historical clefs of blackface, black sound, human sensibility.” Jess’ fiction and poetry have appeared in many journals and anthologies including Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Beyond The Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century, Slam: The Art of Performance Poetry, American Poetry Review, and Ploughshares.

Ethelbert Miller, editor of poetry anthologies, author of two memoirs and numerous books of poetry, including his latest, The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller (2016), will read and offer workshops.

 

a taste of Ireland right here in Columbia

Belinda McKeon read from Solace and Tender at the 39th Irish Evening in Columbia, Maryland

A guest blog submitted by Cara Caccamisi, a student in Professor Ryna May’s literature class at Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland

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Howard County Poetry and Literature Society’s 39th Annual Irish Evening, which took place at Howard Community College’s Smith Theater on Friday, February 10th at 7:30 pm, was an event of Irish pride and culture. Hosted by Columbia’s own Catherine McLoughlin-Hayes, the HoCoPoLitSo Irish Evening Chair, the evening was a great way to experience Ireland without leaving the state of Maryland.

The auditorium was filled with fascination, excitement, and anticipation from the many spectators, while musician Jared Denhard performed the Celtic Harp. Then, Ms. McLoughlin-Hayes came on stage to introduce the main event for the night. Her enthusiasm set the tone for the evening.

Ms. McKeon chose to read first from Solace which was awarded the Faber Prize and Irish Book of the Year. The passage she read described a conflicting relationship between father and son on a farm in Ireland. Ms. McKeon’s second reading was from her latest book, Tender, about two college friends who meet in Dublin and become close; it shows the transformation of friendship from being teenagers to becoming adults. In her unique and exhilarating story, Ms. McKeon depicts the friend’s difficult relationship as Catherine grows strong feelings for James, who is a homosexual. The book grows extra complicated as it is set in the 1990’s when being homosexual was not widely accepted.

Following the author were the Narrowbacks. The Narrowbacks name is a tribute to the term immigrant, as many of the band members have roots in Ireland and they are inspired by the band, Celtic Thunder. The group members consisted of brothers, Jesse and Terence Winch, Dominick Murray, and Linda Hickman, all of whom were apart of Celtic Thunder. Other members were Terence’s son, Michael Winch and Eileen Estes, daughter of Celtic Thunder’s lead singer.

Many of the songs performed consisted of main themes of nature, growing up as an immigrant, and love. One of the most memorable songs, “Childhood Ground”, was written by Terence Winch and sung by Eileen Estes. It remembers the time when the Bronx Expressway was built and shattered the homes of many Irish families, including Winch’s family home. Traditional Irish music is so distinctive as it combines poetry of hardships, life, and love with rare instruments, known in Ireland. The Irish step dancers from the Culkin School performed during some of the songs played by the Narrowbacks.

With the outstanding performance by the Narrowbacks and the talented step dancers, the audience was very well-entertained. The auditorium was filled with the sound of Ireland, and the spectators joined in on clapping hands and nodding their heads to the music. And Belinda McKeon, a truly brilliant writer, left the listeners craving more of the stories.

HoCoPoLitSo created an enjoyable evening and allowed the viewers a chance to spend an evening immersed in Irish culture.

 

Free Screening (tomorrow): Robert Bly: A Thousand Years of Joy

Thursday, March 9, 2017 –
from 7-8:30 pm
Miller Branch of the Howard County Library
Let us know you are coming: register through the Howard County Library or call 410-313-1950.

Robert Bly: A Thousand Years of Joy – Official Trailer (2014) from Haydn Reiss on Vimeo.

Join the Howard County Library and HoCoPoLitSo for a special screening of the documentary filmA Thousand Years of Joy, which charts the path of revolutionary poet Robert Bly from Minnesota farmer’s son to radical anti-Vietnam War activist to wild man of the 1990’s men’s movement. Best known as the author of the bestseller Iron John, which launched a million men drumming in the woods, Bly has been both celebrated and vilified, but above all has persisted in championing the power and importance of poetry in today’s America.

Robert Bly was a guest of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in June of 1997. During his visit, co-sponsored by the Columbia Festival of the Arts, he led a workshop at Howard Community College, presented a reading in the Smith Theatre and taped an edition of The Writing Life with Cornelius Eady.

Carrie Brown and John Gregory Brown to Read in a Literary Celebration for Columbia’s 50th

john-gregory-carrie-brown-726x398HoCoPoLitSo and Wilde Lake Community Association present Of Stars and Hurricanes: Two Columbia Novelists Return. Former Columbia residents Carrie Brown and John Gregory Brown will read from their work at a celebration of literature’s history in this planned city. HoCoPoLitSo will also honor two of Columbia’s own forces of nature, Padraic and Ellen Kennedy, for their work creating a literary life in Howard County during this special event on June 4, 2017. A reception will follow.

Of Stars and Hurricanes will be held on June 4, 2017, beginning at 4 p.m.at Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, MD 21044. Admission tickets are $20 each available on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2725249 or by sending a self-addressed envelope and check payable to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044.

Ellen Conroy Kennedy, a National Book Award finalist and the founder and director emeritus of HoCoPoLitSo, and Padraic Kennedy, the “unofficial mayor” of Columbia for 25 years, as the Columbia Association president from 1972 to1997, are long term Wilde Lake residents. Their support for the literary arts as Columbia developed through the years will be honored during this special celebration.

The Browns met while working for the Columbia Flier, married at Oakland Manor and lived in Wilde Lake for more than ten years. Both Browns live in Virginia and teach at Sweet Briar College. John, the author of four novels, has honors including a Lyndhurst Prize, the Lillian Smith Award, the John Steinbeck Award, and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities Book of the Year Award. Carrie, the author of seven novels, has received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Barnes & Noble Discover Award, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, the Great Lakes Book Award, and, twice, the Library of Virginia Award.

Carrie Brown’s most recent novel is The Stargazer’s Sister, historical fiction about the nineteenth-century astronomer Caroline Herschel, sister of the more famous astronomer William Herschel. The Washington Post listed The Stargazer’s Sister as one of the best 50 books of 2016. Carolyn Leavitt of the Boston Globe noted, “Brown’s writing is as luminous as the skies her characters contemplate.”

John Gregory Brown’s newest novel, A Thousand Miles from Nowhere, follows the path of a Hurricane Katrina survivor seeking redemption. The New York Times Book Review noted it was “ … a deeply humane look at the vulnerability of black lives, the changing contours of the New South and the restorative potential of literature in the aftermath of catastrophe.”

For more than 40 years, HoCoPoLitSo has nurtured a love and respect for the diversity of contemporary literary arts in Howard County. The society sponsors literary readings and writers-in-residence outreach programs, produces The Writing Life (a writer-to-writer talk show), and collaborates with other cultural arts organizations to support the arts in Howard County, Maryland. For more information, visit www.hocopolitso.org.

HoCoPoLitSo receives funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts; Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; The Columbia Film Society; Community Foundation of Howard County; the Jim and Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation; and individual contributors.

gifting books this holiday

Posted by Laura Yoo

This Christmas season, give the gift of reading!  Here’s my shopping list for the grownups and the little people on my list.

The links will take you to Amazon. Don’t forget to shop Amazon Smile and choose Howard County Poetry and Literary Society for your charity!

For the Little People

E.B. White collection: Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan  $13.97

Roald Dahl’s Magical Set: Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory $17.89

The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak $10.99 – This one is my kids’ absolute favorite. They think it’s so hilarious and love making the parents read it – but they also enjoy reading it themselves to say the funny words, especially “butt”.

Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz $12.80 – This one is actually one of my favorites. I love retelling of fairy tales and I love this little ninja girl version of Red Riding Hood.

Encyclopedia Brown set of 4 books – $12.19 – I loved reading these books when I was a kid – time to get the next generation hooked!

Curious George Around Town – $8.29 – Curious George is probably my favorite series in little, little people books.

For the Grownups

The Vegetarian by Han Kang $8.92

“Celebrated by critics around the world, The Vegetarian is a darkly allegorical, Kafka-esque tale of power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both without and within her.” – Amazon

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead $16.17

“The National Book Award Winner and #1 New York Times bestseller from Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South” – Amazon

Vaseline Buddha by Jung Young Moon (translated by Jung Yewon) $10.13 –

“A tragicomic odyssey told through free association scrubs the depths of the human psyche to achieve a higher level of consciousness equal to Zen meditation. The story opens when our sleepless narrator thwarts a would-be thief outside his moonlit window, then delves into his subconscious imagination to explore a variety of geographical and mental locations—real, unreal, surreal—to explore the very nature of reality.”- Amazon

The Best American Essays 2016 $8.79

“A true essay is ‘something hazarded, not definitive, not authoritative; something ventured on the basis of the author’s personal experience and subjectivity,’ writes guest editor Jonathan Franzen in his introduction. However, his main criterion for selecting The Best American Essays 2016 was, in a word, risk.”- Amazon

Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: The Authorized Graphic Adaptation $11.72

“This graphic adaptation by Jackson’s grandson Miles Hyman allows readers to experience “The Lottery” as never before, or to discover it anew. He has crafted an eerie vision of the hamlet where the tale unfolds and the unforgettable ritual its inhabitants set into motion. Hyman’s full-color, meticulously detailed panels create a noirish atmosphere that adds a new dimension of dread to the original story.” – Amazon

Happy gifting! And don’t forget to select Howard County Poetry and Literary Society on Amazon Smile!

Laura Yoo HoCoPoLitSo Board member and Associate Professor of English at Howard Community College.

Laura Yoo
HoCoPoLitSo Board member and Associate Professor of English at Howard Community College.

 

Belinda McKeon to read at HoCoPoLitSo’s 39th Irish Evening of Music and Poetry

HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for its annual Irish Evening on February 10, 2017 is the award-winning writer and playwright Belinda McKeon. McKeon’s reading will be followed by Narrowbacks Eileen Korn Estes, Jesse Winch, Terence Winch, Linda Hickman, and Michael Winch in a concert of traditional Irish music, with stepdancers from the Culkin School. The Narrowbacks will be performing music from their newly released This Day Too: Music from Irish America with Terence Winch, Michael Winch, & Jesse Winch. This is the first album featuring new material from Terence Winch-composer of many of the original Celtic Thunder’s best-known songs- in almost ten years. Irish beverages and snacks will be available.

 

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mckeon_mailchimpBelinda McKeon’s debut novel, Solace, won the 2011 Faber Prize and was voted Irish Book of the Year, as well as being shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Her second novel, Tender, was shortlisted for the Eason Book Club Novel of the Year at the 2015 Irish Book Awards. The Irish Book Awards website noted “Brave, moving and powerfully told, Tender confirms Belinda McKeon’s status as one of the most exciting contemporary voices in Irish fiction.” About her second novel, Kirkus (starred review) said “Exquisite…Captures something essential about vulnerability, love and longing.” A Kind of Compass: Stories on Distance, edited by McKeon, was published in 2015. Her essays and journalism have appeared in the Irish Times, the New York Times, the Paris Review, the Guardian, A Public Space and elsewhere. As a playwright, she has had work produced in Dublin and New York. Fiona Wilson, The Times (U.K.), noted “McKeon is a superb and sophisticated writer, who captures the barely articulable feelings between young people on the brink of adulthood.”

McKeon joins a long list of luminary Irish authors HoCoPoLitSo has brought to Howard County audiences, including Frank McCourt, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, and Emma Donoghue. For 39 years, HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening has celebrated the substantial impact of Irish-born writers on the world of contemporary literature.

The evening begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College. General admission tickets are $35 each; available on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2716229 or by sending a check and self-addressed envelope to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044. Each ticket purchased by January 15th includes a complimentary adult drink.

HoCoPoLitSo works to cultivate appreciation for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages. The society sponsors literary readings and writers-in-residence outreach programs, produces The Writing Life (a thirty-minute writer-to-writer talk show), and partners with the public schools and cultural organizations to support the arts in Howard County, Maryland. For more information, visit www.hocopolitso.org.

 

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What Am I Reading And Why? Diane Ackerman’s The Human Age.

04-02-11--Palm Beach Gardens, FL-- Photo by Joshua Prezant--  Author Diane Ackerman and her husband Paul West.

04-02-11–Palm Beach Gardens, FL– Photo by Joshua Prezant–
Author Diane Ackerman and her husband Paul West.

Recently, I reached for something hopeful to read. I wanted to get out of the funky funk current affairs has had me in. I wanted a bigger picture, something that might observe, teach, and inspire. Basically, a tonic for these blues I have been dwelling in. I reached for Diane Ackerman’s The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us.

Open your imagination to how we began – as semi-upright apes which spent some of their time in trees; next as ragtag bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers; then as purposeful custodians of favorite grains, chosen with mind-bending slowness, over thousands of years; and in time as intrepid farmers and clearers of forests with fixed roofs over our heads and a more reliable food supply; afterward as builders of villages and towns dwarfed by furrowed, well-tilled farmlands; then as makers, fed by such inventions as the steam engine (a lavish power source unlike horses, oxen, or water power, and not subject to health or weather, not limited by location); later as industry’s operators, drudges and tycoons who moved closer to the factories that arose in honey-combed cities beside endless fields of staple crops (like corn, wheat, and rice) and giant herds of key species (mainly cows, sheep, or pigs); and finally as builders of big buzzing metropolises, ringed by suburbs on whose fringes lay shrinking farms and forests; and then, as if magnetized by a fierce urge to coalesce, fleeing en mass into these mountainous hope-scented cities.

That’s about as big picture as you can get, the 150 thousand or so years of Homo sapiens developing like a Polaroid right in front of your eyes. It is the kind of scope that shares what a grand thing life is and what we on the now end of existence should consider as we take on the seemingly insurmountable troubles of our own day. The tribe can survive, adapt, invent.

ackermanhumanThe book doesn’t pose a pretty picture — our current environmental concerns weigh heavy within it. But it doesn’t look at just the real, rough edges of how we live on Earth and how we treat our home. It also looks at ways we are currently taking on our challenges through imagination, ingenuity, persistence, care, action, and number – the world’s problems are not to be taken on individually, though that is often where engagement starts, but with a growing collective effort and resource. Some lead by expertise and example, others take it from there. In that light, it is inspiring. One reads as an individual, but as the pages turn, one realizes that they describe the efforts of your kin and kind hard at work to do the right thing and mind this wonderful home for all of us, making better today so that our story will carry on into the future.

Ackerman’s sentences are beautiful, full of words that touch up to each other perfectly as they flow into informative paragraphs and chapter-length essays. She has a wonderful sense of observation and detail. The way she names species specifically like the pearls they are, or identifies the detail of cultures or individuals she is describing are testament to her expertise on what she is writing about. It deepens one’s understanding of the world. It is clear and full of insight, compassion, and, yes, hope. I don’t know if it was an odd choice or not to reach for on a whim, but I am loving it and it is mending me.

Sincerely,

Tim Singleton
Board Co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo

mana’s musings: poetry-binge at dodge poetry festival 2016

Laura Yoo HoCoPoLitSo Board member and Associate Professor of English at Howard Community College.

Laura Yoo
HoCoPoLitSo Board member and Associate Professor of English at Howard Community College.

It was my first time. I was nervous. I was excited. I felt better that a friend was going to be there with me the whole time, a friend who had done it before.

My first Dodge Poetry Festival.

I had two goals and I had 24 hours (if I didn’t sleep) to achieve them.  First, hear Claudia Rankine, my new literary hero whose formidable poetic and intellectual power show us what a real-life super hero looks like.  Move over, Captain America!  Second, discover one new poet – someone I’ve never read or heard

The first event I attended was called “American Poetries” with Brenda Hillman, Khaled Mattawa, Claudia Rankine, and Anne Waldman – all Chancellors of Academy of American Poets. While I would have loved to hear these poets read from their own impressive repertoire of works, it was also wonderful to hear the poems they’re reading and who they recommend for us to discover.

2016-10-23-02-07-38

from the left – Khaled Mattawa, Brenda Hillman, Claudia Rankine, Anne Waldman

Khaled Mattawa read a poem by Hayan Charara called “Animals,” a haunting story about the violence we commit against each other. The poem, Mattawa reminded us, exposes the horrors that we’re not allowed to speak of. I immediately ordered a copy of Charara’s book, Something Sinister.

Claudia Rankine told us about a poet named Mark Nowak and his book, Shut Up Shut Down.  In referring to Nowak, Rankine brought to the foreground a voice that is sometimes ignored in our discussions about race – the working white class. This voice is essential to Rankine’s new project of studying whiteness.

Much of this forum’s discussion on “America’s Poetries” highlighted the diversity of voices, experiences, and perspectives.  The takeaway for me was that poets feel a deep sense of responsibility in their roles not only as artists but also as people who speak for, about, and on behalf of American lives. Their poetry gives us language with which we can speak of our world in ways that are creative and enlightening.

That evening, I experienced one of the most special poetry performances I’ve ever attended at “Poetry like Bread – Poems of Social and Political Consciousness.” The lineup included Marilyn Chin, Robert Hass, Martín Espada, Juan Felipe Herrera, Brenda Hillman, Claudia Rankine, Vijay Seshadri, and Gary Snyder. I know, right? Yes, let that list sink in.

2016-10-22-13-56-07I rediscovered Robert Hass. Though I had read his works and studied them in school, experiencing his poetry live on stage sparked a new interest. His reading of what can only be called an epic poem titled “Dancing” – about human history of violence and weapons – brought people to a standing ovation.

That same evening, I discovered Marilyn Chin. I don’t know many poets who look like me – an Asian American woman. And there is something powerful about seeing someone who looks like you speaking of an experience, a perspective, a history, a family, or a value that you are personally familiar with.  She is a cool performer with a bit of an attitude and spunk. I like that.

So within hours of arriving at the festival, I met both of my goals.

But it’s not just the poets and the poetry that made this overnight trip to Newark deeply moving.  Conversations with my friend about language, education, art, race, politics – those conversations had me doing mental gymnastics. My ideas were both validated and challenged.  My mind stretched.

I learned that the community of poets and poetry is a thing of beauty and power. Dodge got me hooked. I can’t wait to go back in two years.

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

© 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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