Carolyn Forché Returns to WC

By Elijah McGuire-Berk
Web Editor
The Rose O’Neill Literary House’s guest speaker series, “The Personal and the Political,” hosted its second speaker on March 30.  Poet Carolyn Forché returned to the College after having given a poetry reading 27 years ago. She was glad to be back and joked about how most of the attendees were not even 27 years old.
She said, “I really had a good time last time and I still remember [it.] After many, many, many, many colleges, I remember how wonderful it was and look at this place. Do you know how many colleges have a place dedicated to literature like this? Almost none. It was a very special place and I was happy to come back.”
Associate Professor of English and Director of the Literary House Dr. James Allen Hall introduced her. He described some of her many accolades, such as winning the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Cultural Award in 1998 and the 2017 Wyndham-Campbell Prize for Poetry.
He praised her writing and said, “Reading Forché’s poems, I meet a renewed part of myself. That part we can call empathy or perhaps it could be called grace or fortitude or wisdom, that part that is in danger and is most vital to our collective survival.”
The first poem she read, “The Colonel,” was a prose poem from her book, “The Country Between Us.” She noted that in the past, she was able to read the poem in its entirety over the radio, even though it contained an obscenity by FCC standards.
She said, “I’m the last person, I’m told by Noah Adams of NPR’s ‘All Things Considered,’ to say [the f-word on the radio].”
Forché read from a variety of her books. These included stories of people she had interacted with over her life and found interesting enough to record. She sometimes discussed what she learned while writing it, or anything else related to it. In her writing process, she visits a lot of historical markers and emphasized the importance of learning history while writing.
The people she cited as inspirations for her poems included an elderly Parisian refugee who escaped the Nazis, her husband, her friend who died from cancer, and a poet from Odessa who she met in a poetry workshop.
“You can read a place for its history, you know,” she said. “People who know the history, look at the field, like for example if you’re going to visit Auschwitz and you just see the field with the wildflowers; it’s a field with wildflowers but if you know what happened there it can never be a field with wildflowers. Learning history is learning to read the world.”

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