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Carolyn Forché Biography

(1950– ), Gathering the Tribes, The Country Between Us, The Angel of History

twentieth political century

American poet, born in Detroit, educated at Michigan State and Bowling Green universities. Gathering the Tribes (1976), her first collection, was selected for the Yale Younger Poets series. The Country Between Us (1981) made a remarkable impact with its critique of regimes in Eastern Europe and El Salvador. The poems are frequently graphic in their details of imprisonment, torture, and mutilation: a sack full of human ears is spilled out onto a table (‘The Colonel’); a boy-soldier peels the face from a corpse and hangs it from a tree (‘Because One Is Always Forgotten’). A fine concluding poem, ‘Ourselves or Nothing’, characteristically balances political concerns with an undercurrent of sensuality. By Forché's own account, the free verse lyric-narratives of her earlier work have given way to a more discordant manner: ‘broken, polyphonic, haunted’. This development is apparent in The Angel of History (1994), an intense meditation on the twentieth century's moral disasters, particularly the Holocaust and Hiroshima. Derek Walcott has commended Forché for ‘undertaking the responsibilities of conscience’. She has also edited an anthology by, for, and about the victims and survivors of political repression and violence, Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness (1993).

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