The early life of Carolyn Louise Forché (fohr-SHAY) in a working-class immigrant family in Detroit colored her feelings about her work as a writer, and it supplied her with themes for her first volume of poetry, Gathering the Tribes. That volume was done as part of her work for the M.F.A. degree she received from Bowling Green State University; it later was selected for the Yale Younger Poets Award. Forché’s topics in that collection portray the world from which she came. In the introduction to the volume, the poet Stanley Kunitz discusses the kinship theme.
An important poem in the collection is “Burning the Tomato Worms.” Here Forché portrays an immigrant Uzbek woman, Anna (her grandmother), whose life still reflects her peasant past. “Eat Bread and Salt and Speak the Truth,” she says; Forché refers to the flowers and vegetables Anna grew, and to the china Virgin on her mantle, complete with an electric-bulb heart. In the poem Forché also claims relationships with the voices of Native Americans, with Hispanic speakers in the Southwest, and with speakers from bleak early farm life in the upper Midwest where Forché grew up. Taken together, they are the voices of the dispossessed.
Forché next spent time in Central America, where she worked with Amnesty International and observed the region’s terrible poverty and human rights abuses, particularly in El Salvador. Her outrage at what she saw led to her second book, The Country Between Us. Here she does more than claim kinship with the dispossessed; she clearly feels a moral imperative to act as a witness to what has happened among them. The poems in this volume range from descriptions of the country to painful statements about the barbarisms of military terrorism. In “The Visitor,” for example, Forché concludes that “There is nothing one man will not do to another.” Two poems in the collection stand out particularly, “The Return” and “The Colonel.” Here Forché promises to tell...
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