Carolyn Forché/United States of America, 1950
Carolyn Forché (1950) is an American poet, translator, and human rights activist. Her debut poetry collection won the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition in 1976 for the best young poet. Having received a scholarship, she then spent some time in El Salvador and worked for Amnesty International. It was often these experiences that served as the foundation for her following poetry collections, which have regularly received the most prestigious American literary accolades. She held many university lectures and does so to this day. She is also an established and acclaimed translator (she translated authors such as Georg Trakl, Mahmoud Darwish and others) and widely respected for her human rights activism.
Carolyn Forché's creativity is heavily influenced by her humanitarian experience. She has spent over four decades waking sleeping, comfortably situated readers with a heavy reliance on people’s testimonies and experiences. Her Poetry of witness, nestled in between the monstrosities of Auschwitz and refugees on the Rio Grande River, intensely and honestly explores pain and suffering, resulting in her being dubbed a political poet by many critics, because she is an exact observer of the violence and horrors of our time. She incessantly reminds us on the need for tolerant mutual relations. The selection of her poetry, through which the readers can come in touch with her creative opus, was prepared and translated by Kristina Kočan. Most of the poems in the selection is from the collection In the Lateness of the World (2020), for which the author was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Forché will also write an autopoetic essay for the Slovenian release of her work.
The poet is coming to the festival with the support of U.S. Embassy in Slovenia.
Behind us a sea-cliff, landfall, ahead the wind,
tar-smoke, the sea, a carrick.
We sway on a bridge between them
above a great shattering. We have left
the verge, our certainty, and walk across
a chasm to the cries of cormorants, fulmars,
the wings of mute swans singing in flight.
Below us bladder-wrack, sea-froth and dulse,
sea against rocks in heave and salt, and between
bridge and sea an abyss we cross, as behind us
the headland recedes—cottages and boats, clouds and sheep,
a piping of oystercatchers dying out, and the callings
of kittiwake preparing to leave their nesting ground.
The bridge rises and falls with our steps, moving in wind
so we must hold fast the ropes
once made of hides and the hair of cows’ tails
hoisted over the silvering salmon as they leapt
into bag-nets too heavy to lift, hauled
across this very bridge that rings in wind
like ship’s rigging, volary of rock pipits,
bazaar of guillemots, colony of puffins,
and in the blackest water below us ghosts
of salmon, empty nets, and on the carrick
ruins of boats, nets, buoys and fisherman’s bothy.
We have only to keep walking for the bridge to go on.
The carrick is a foothold in the distance, a stone in time.
When we reach it, not only may the salmon return
but you will be alive again, wake me when we reach the carrick.
March. The Neva still white, crisp as communion, and as we walk
its bridges, steadying ourselves on the glaze, tubes of ice
slide from the gutter-spouts to the astonishment of dogs, some of whom
have not seen spring before, while others pretend not to remember,
and a woman bends over her late potatoes, sorting and piling, and you say
“in this house lived a friend of my father who was killed” and
“in that house lived another, and in this, a very bad poet no longer known.”
We come to the synagogue and go in, as far back as a forgotten holiness,
where, we are told, you can whisper into the wall and be heard on the
But the rabbi doesn’t know you are deaf. We whisper into the wall to
A sign in Cyrillic asks for donations, and in exchange we apparently buy
dozens of matzos wrapped in paper. There are only a hundred
of us left in the city. While we are here, a fisherman waits on the river,
seated with a bucket beside him, his line in the hole, but in the last hour
water has surrounded his slab of ice, so unbeknownst
he is floating downstream, having caught nothing, cold and delirious
with winter thoughts, as they all are and were, and as for rescue,
no one will come. It is spring. The Neva, white and crisp as communion.
We have come far south.
Beyond here, the oldest women
shelling limas into black shawls.
Portillo scratching his name
on the walls, the slender ribbons
of piss, children patting the mud.
If we go on, we might stop
in the street in the very place
where someone disappeared
and the words Come with us! we might
hear them. If that happened, we would
lead our lives with our hands
tied together. That is why we feel
it is enough to listen
to the wind jostling lemons,
to dogs ticking across the terraces,
knowing that while birds and warmer weather
are forever moving north,
the cries of those who vanish
might take years to get here.
A night without ships. Foghorns calling into walled cloud, and you
still alive, drawn to the light as if it were a fire kept by monks,
darkness once crusted with stars, but now death-dark as you sail inward.
Through wild gorse and sea-wrack, through heather and torn wool
you ran, pulling me by the hand, so I might see this for once in my life:
the spin and spin of light, the whirring of it, light in search of the lost,
there since the era of fire, era of candles and hollow wick lamps,
whale oil and solid wick, colza and lard, kerosene and carbide,
the signal fires lighted on this perilous coast in the Tower of Hook.
You say to me stay awake, be like the lens maker who died with his
lungs full of glass, be the yew in blossom when bees swarm, be
their amber cathedral and even the ghosts of Cistercians will be kind to you.
In a certain light as after rain, in pearled clouds or the water beyond,
seen or sensed water, sea or lake, you would stop still and gaze out
for a long time. Also, when fireflies opened and closed in the pines,
and a star appeared, our only heaven. You taught me to live like this.
That after death it would be as it was before we were born. Nothing
to be afraid. Nothing but happiness as unbearable as the dread
from which it comes. Go toward the light always, be without ships.