Carolyn Forché Forché was born in Detroit, Michigan. Forché earned a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in Creative Writing at Michigan State University in 1972, and MFA at Bowling Green State University in 1974. She taught at a number of universities, including Bowling Green State University, Michigan State University, the University of Virginia, Skidmore College, Columbia University, San Diego State University and in the Master of Fine Arts program at George Mason University. She is now Director of the Lannan Center for Poetry and Poetics and holds the Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Forché lives in Maryland with her husband, Harry Mattison, a photographer, whom she married in 1984. Forché's first poetry collection, Gathering the Tribes (1976), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition, leading to publication by Yale University Press. In 1977, she traveled to Spain to translate the work of Salvadoranexiled poet Claribel Alegría. She has also translated the work of Georg Trakl and Mahmoud Darwish, as well as many others. Upon her return from Spain, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to El Salvador, where she worked as a human rights advocate. Her second book, The Country Between Us (1981), was published with the help of Margaret Atwood. It received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was also the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. She won the 2006 Robert Creeley Award. Although Forché is sometimes described as a political poet, she considers herself a poet who is politically engaged. After first acquiring both fame and notoriety for her second volume of poems, The Country Between Us, she pointed out that this reputation rested on a limited number of poems describing what she personally had experienced in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War. Her aesthetic is more one of rendered experience and at times of mysticism rather than one of ideology or agitprop. Forché is particularly interested in the effect of political trauma on the poet's use of language. www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/carolyn-forche Image Credit: Don J. Usner. Courtesy of Blue Flower Arts.
The Boatman We were thirty-one souls all, he said, on the gray-sick of sea in a cold rubber boat, rising and falling in our filth. By morning this didn’t matter, no land was in sight, all were soaked to the bone, living and dead. We could still float, we said, from war to war. What lay behind us but ruins of stone piled on ruins of stone? City called “mother of the poor” surrounded by fields of cotton and millet, city of jewelers and cloak-makers, with the oldest church in Christendom and the Sword of Allah. If anyone remains there now, he assures, they would be utterly alone. There is a hotel named for it in Rome two hundred meters from the Piazza di Spagna, where you can have breakfast under the portraits of film stars. There the staff cannot do enough for you. But I am talking nonsense again, as I have since that night we fetched a child, not ours, from the sea, drifting facedown in a life vest, its eyes taken by fish or the birds above us. After that, Aleppo went up in smoke, and Raqqa came under a rain of leaflets warning everyone to go. Leave, yes, but go where? We lived through the Americans and Russians, through Americans again, many nights of death from the clouds, mornings surprised to be waking from the sleep of death, still unburied and alive but with no safe place. Leave, yes, we obey the leaflets, but go where? To the sea to be eaten, to the shores of Europe to be caged? To camp misery and camp remain here. I ask you then, where? You tell me you are a poet. If so, our destination is the same. I find myself now the boatman, driving a taxi at the end of the world. I will see that you arrive safely, my friend, I will get you there. Carolyn Forché