Known as a “poet of witness” and human rights advocate, Carolyn Forché will be featured in the 13th annual Thatcher Hoffman Smith Poetry Series at Oklahoma City University on April 13, 2011. Forché is the author of four books of poetry: Blue Hour (2004); The Angel of History (1994), which received the Los Angeles Times Book Award; The Country Between Us (1982), which received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was the Lamont Poetry Selection of The Academy of American Poets; and Gathering the Tribes (1976), which was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets by http://www.poets.org/skuni. She is also the editor of the groundbreaking anthology Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993). Among her translations are Mahmoud Darwish's Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems with Munir Akash (2003), http://www.poets.org/caleg’s Flowers from the Volcano (1983), and Robert Desnos's Selected Poetry (with William Kulik, 1991). Her honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She studied at Michigan State University and earned an MFA from Bowling Green State University. She has taught at a number of universities, including the University of Arkansas, Vassar, Georgetown and Columbia.
Born in Detroit, Forché was one of seven children to a Czech-American housewife. In her youth, she recalls discovering photographs from a Nazi concentration camp in Look Magazine. After her mother confiscated the journal and hid it, Forché re-confiscated it, marking perhaps the beginning of a poetic vocation devoted to exposing tyranny, injustice, and bearing witness to the atrocities of the 20th century. This vision led her to El Salvador as a journalist for Amnesty International in 1983 and to Beirut as a correspondent for the National Public Radio program "All Things Considered." In El Salvador she worked closely with Archbishop Oscar Romero, human rights activist later killed by right-wing assassins, Forché assisted in finding people who had disappeared and in reporting their whereabouts to Amnesty International. The shock of witnessing countless atrocities in Central America intensified her commitment to human rights and generated the volume The Country Between Us, which stirred immediate controversy because of its overt politics: “My new works seemed controversial to my American contemporaries who argued against the right of a North American to contemplate such issues in her work, or against any mixing of what they saw as the mutually exclusive realms of the personal and the political.” Forché’s reputation was tarnished for some forever. One publisher agreed to publish the collection only if the poet would agree to balance images of war-torn El Salvador with lighter poems on more traditional subjects. Forché refused. After much encouragement from fellow writer Margaret Atwood, Forché sent the manuscript to Harper and Row and obtained a contract just three days later.
Over the years Forché’s quest to understand the individual’s struggle with social upheaval and political turmoil has taken her from El Salvador to the occupied West Bank, Lebanon, and South Africa. Her preoccupation with silence has been described as “so profound it approximates prayer,” and has culminated in a new genre of North American poetry: the poetry of witness.
Forché has commented that “The poetry of witness reclaims the social from the political and in so doing defends the individual against illegitimate forms of coercion.” She admits to the compelling nature of her Central American experience: “I tried not to write about El Salvador in poetry, because I thought it might be better to do so in journalistic articles. But I couldn’t—the poems just came.” In these poems Forché “addresses herself unflinchingly to the exterior, historical world.” She did so at a time when most of her contemporaries were writing poetry in which there is no room for politics—poetry. Instead, Forché writes of wistful longings, of failed connections, of inevitable personal loss, expressed in a set of poetic strategies that suit such themes.
Join us for one of our country’s most talented poets and one of its most eloquent communicators. Forché will be on campus to read some of her poems, talk about her writing process, and respond to questions at a 10:00 AM session on April 13. She will read her poetry at an 8:00 PM session. Both will be in the Kerr McGee Auditorium of the Meinders School of Business, at NW 27th Street and McKinley. Both sessions are free and open to the public for those who arrive first. Full Circle Bookstore will be at the events selling Forché’s books, and she will sign books after both sessions. An Open-Mic Poetry Reading will be held in the Kerr McGee Auditorium from 6:15 PM to 7:30 PM.
Poet will be on campus for Workshop/Poetry Reading on Wednesday, April 13, 2011.