Carolyn Forché

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Carolyn ForcheCarolyn Forché is the former Director of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice and is Professor of English at Georgetown University. She is most recently the author of the memoir What You Have Heard Is True (Penguin Random House, 2019). She is the author of four books of poetry: Gathering The Tribes, which received the Yale Younger Poets Award, The Country Between Us, chosen as the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets, The Angel of History, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and Blue Hour, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Forché is also the editor of Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (W. W. Norton, 1993) and the coeditor of Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001 (W. W. Norton, 2014). She has been a human rights activist for thirty years.


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 face-
down 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.


Links


Media

A Dream Deferred: Black in the U.S.A. | April 12, 2016
Claudia Rankine Seminar

Literacy, Literature and Democracy | April 7, 2010
Writing (and Working) Beyond Genocide: Literary, Cultural and Social Activisms in a Changing Africa

CRY HAVOC! Poetry of War and Remembrance 1968-2008 | March 31, 2009
SYMPOSIUM III: War and Remembrance: Surviving with Language and Memory

CRY HAVOC! Poetry of War and Remembrance 1968-2008 | March 31, 2009
Reading: War and Remembrance: Poetry of War and Memory, 1968- 2008

Reading | November 11, 2008

Reading with Nicole Brossard and Joan Retallack | February 15, 2000