Carolyn Forché The Angel of History
Award: Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry
(Full name Carolyn Louise Forché) Born in 1950, Forché is an American poet, journalist, editor, and translator.
For further information on Forché's life and works, see CLC, Volumes 25 and 83.
The Angel of History (1994) focuses on various atrocities of the twentieth century, including the Holocaust, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and the occupation of Paris by the Nazis. Divided into five sections, the volume employs a fragmented structure and is told in part by the Angel of History, a being which can record humanity's miseries but is unable to prevent them or the pain and suffering associated with them. Stressing the importance of remembrance and chance, Forché frequently assumes a multitude of voices as she relates her speakers' observations, fears, and haunted memories. In one poem, for example, she focuses on a group of Jewish children who, hiding from Nazis during World War II, are eventually discovered and marched to Auschwitz; in another poem, "The Garden Shukkei-en," a Japanese woman comments that she dislikes the color of a beautiful flower since it reminds her of "a woman's brain crushed under a roof"—a sight she witnessed during the atomic attack on Hiroshima. The latter poem, however, like other pieces in the collection, ends on a note of resigned hope. The speaker asserts: "We have not, after all these years, felt what you call happiness. / But at times, with good fortune, we experience something close. / As our life resembles life, and this garden the garden. / And in the silence surrounding what happened to us / / it is the bell to awaken God that we've heard ringing." The Angel of History also contains numerous allusions to quotes by French poet Paul Valéry, Austrian writer Georg Trakl, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Noting Forché's desire to remember past events on personal and social levels—rather than as political abstractions, facts, or statistics—Susan Salter Reynolds observed: "[Forché] is not puzzling, not trying, first and foremost to figure out what to do with her own experience. She is, instead, speaking in the voices of the people whose stories are remembered. It is as though, beyond bearing witness and providing conscience, she has incorporated the history of others into her own genealogy."