Tag Archives: Carolyn Forché

An Afternoon with… Carolyn Forché & Lori Soderlind

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I have always read American poetry. When I came back to writing in 2013 I read many American poets. Editing A Tale of Two Cities project 3 years ago, I grew to appreciate the differences between English and American poetry. During this pandemic, the borders (were there ever any?) of our digital world have diminished and many events are global. I haven’t done the statistics but I probably have an equal UK to International dip in events over our Lockdowns.

At one of the many online festivals I have attended I discovered Carolyn Forché and immediately connected to the spirit of her work. I went on to watch several readings and read a selection of her poetry. As you know, the past couple of years have been difficult and financially I am unable to spend, so the things I really loved in 2020 went onto Birthday and Christmas Lists. Carolyn’s book In the Lateness of the World was one of my Christmas orders. I want to dip in and out, but fear I may devour it! You can hear Museum of Stones and Boatman here.

When I saw the Hudson Valley Writers Center had lunchtime readings and Carolyn was reading on the 7th February, I was very excited. There’s a lot in the diary, all carefully colour coded and occasionally I find myself counting down to an event, this was one of those. Equally I love discovering new to me poets and not knowing Lori Soderlind’s work, I looked forward to hearing somebody new. This afternoon (or evening for us in the UK) was too good not to share.

Enjoy!

Carolyn Forché and Lori Soderlind read from their most recent writing plus Q&A.

Carolyn Forché is an award winning author of poetry and prose. She is the author of the 2019 memoir What You Have Heard Is True (Penguin Random House), a devastating, lyrical, and visionary book about a young woman’s brave choice to engage with horror in order to help others. What You Have Heard Is True was a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award.

Claire Messud writes, “In this searing, vital memoir, Carolyn Forché at last reveals the dark stories behind her famous early poems: she brings alive the brutality, complexity and idealism of El Salvador in the late 1970s, a time of revolution that echoes all too painfully in the present. What You Have Heard Is True, a riveting and essential account of a young woman’s political and human awakening, is as beautiful as it is painful to read.” And Claudia Rankine notes: “What You Have Heard Is True is as much an enthralling account of a life marked by an encounter as it is a document of a time and place. Carolyn Forche’s urgent and compelling memoir narrates her role as witness in an especially explosive and precarious period in El Salvador’s history. This incredible book shapes chaos into accountability. It marries the attentive sensibility of a master poet with the unflinching eyes of a human rights activist.”

Renowned as a “poet of witness,” Carolyn Forché is the author of five books of poetry. Her first poetry collection, Gathering The Tribes (Yale University Press, 1976), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. In 1977, she traveled to Spain to translate the work of Salvadoran-exiled poet Claribel Alegrí­a, and upon her return, received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to El Salvador, where she worked as a human rights advocate. Her second book, The Country Between Us (Harper and Row, 1982), received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was also the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Her third book of poetry, The Angel of History (HarperCollins, 1994), was chosen for The Los Angeles Times Book Award. Blue Hour is her fourth collection of poems (HarperCollins, 2003).

Her most recent collection, In the Lateness of the World (Penguin Press, 2020), is a tenebrous book of crossings, of migrations across oceans and borders but also between the present and the past, life and death. Forché’s anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, was published by W.W. Norton & Co. in 1993. In 2014, her new anthology, The Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500-2001, was published. Her translation of Claribel Alegria’s work, Flowers From The Volcano, was published by the University Pittsburgh Press in 1983. In 2000, Curbstone Press published a new book of her translations of Alegrí­a, entitled Sorrow.

Lori Soderlind is author of two memoirs: The Change (My Great-American, Postindustrial, Midlife Crisis Tour) and Chasing Montana (A Love Story). She is director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College. Her writing has appeared in anthologies and journals; her essay “66 Signs” is included in the Norton Anthology of Best Creative Nonfiction. She has reviewed books for the New York Times and elsewhere. Lori began her career in print journalism, working as a reporter, editor, and freelancer for newspapers and magazines across New Jersey and New York. After earning an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University, she worked as a city editor at the Times Union newspaper in Albany, NY, and taught writing at SUNY’s Albany campus. She was also an adjunct professor at Columbia University and Western Connecticut State University and a professor of journalism at Norwalk Community College in Norwalk, CT, before taking her position as director of the Manhattanville College MFA program.

Regarding her love of carpentry, Lori was torn between being a writer, a carpenter, or a rock star for much of her early life and finally settled on a career in the area where she felt she might actually have talent. This did not stop her from pursuing her other passions; she has been attempting and sometimes succeeding at renovating houses and barns for much of her adult life and is now practicing scales on her electric bass in earnest, hoping music might regain a place in her creative universe.
Lori studied English in college, then followed her father’s footsteps into journalism—a field where she was able to actually earn a living writing about unusual bar mitzvahs, parachuting grandmothers and the weather. She briefly quit the newspaper world to work in a book store and in a wood shop and, when they fired her there (mainly, she thinks, for being a girl), she set off on the western adventure that would become her first book. Her latest book, The Change, was the fruit of a long drive she took with her dog Colby, setting off to find “the most depressing places I could find in the country,” Lori has explained, though she only had time to scratch the surface. Colby died peacefully at home shortly before his sixteenth birthday. Lori now lives in New York City with her Portuguese water dog Graci. 

©2020 Hudson Valley Writers Center

Listening to Lori’s reading sparked so many thoughts in my mind. It was a joy to listen in. Carolyn read many poems I have heard/read before which always gives an opportunity to listen deeper. The Q&A was generous. I loved seeing how touched Lori was to read with Carolyn and hearing the stories behind her work. Both look at troubles and divides (that’s putting it lightly). The whole event filled my heart. And you missed it, right? Well no fear… have a watch for yourselves. The UK person Lori mentions at the beginning is not me.

Flashback Spring (April)

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April was Napowrimo and those of you who follow this blog will know I have done it every year since I discovered it existed (2014), this year – for the first time ever – I was home every day of the prompts and managed it without falling behind. As is tradition, by the end I was left with about 5 decent poems and another 5 to work with. Lots of new notes and scribbles, I did write 32 poems over the month but some are no more than a warm up exercise, you can whittle on after April and collect yourself a good batch of 30 decent poems, but as with all workshops some prompts will speak louder than others. There were some areas I continued to research and develop and other scrap poems I abandoned. Nothing wasted though.

Napowrimo was also the last time I was properly active on the blog. The Stay at Home Lit Festival continued (it was a glorious 2 weeks). I continued to enjoy events which moved online more from the PPP (Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists) team, as another of their brilliant nights Yes We Cant happened online and PASTA (usually at the Wolverhampton Arena Theatre). 42, Worcester and Run My Tongue were other open mic events I joined.

I signed up to Caleb Parkin‘s Napo group and enjoyed weekly sessions with other poets (some of whom I knew) doing Napo. These groups were great fun. Huge gratitude to Caleb for creating such a pleasant space to create from.

Another huge gratitude bundle goes to Cath Drake, who I discovered at the S@HF. Her first collection The Shaking City (Seren) was launched in April. https://www.serenbooks.com/author/cath-drake.

Cath started a writing course for poets in Australia (her homeland) and UK (her home). It was incredible and again I will be posting separately on Writing to Buoy Us.

Discover more about Cath and her work here https://cathdrake.com/.

April was the start of crazy, for me it was a coping mechanism and also I was coming from that post-book release-writing-slump https://ninalewispoet.wordpress.com/books/, which followed on the back of the medicated break from writing, which I was convinced (at the time), had broken the camel’s back, so a certain amount of my packed scheduling was a liberation, a dance with words. It was also a sure fire way to bury my thoughts from what was really happening for a few hours most days. I was also trying to get over having to cancel all my real life bookings for a 2nd year running.

I read a lot, every writer should. But I have to say 2020 has opened me to more new writing and new to me poets than any year so far. So readily accessible at a touch of a button. The whole world at my writing desk.

Sarah L. Dixon needs another shout out of gratitude, she started to run workshops online, which were always fun and successful for me – as in I would always have a nearly completed poem by the end of it – I may have even submitted some of these out to the world and I have barely submitted anything anywhere since 2018.

A big shout out of gratitude to Zelda Chappel too – who it has been a pleasure to reconnect with. She offered a series of wonderful prompts which in the beginning refreshed my love for this gift of writing and over the weeks gave space for some different writing.

A big shout out to Mab Jones too who created Lockdown Writers’ Club and provided us all with in depth prompts and created a creative community.

I went to the book launch of Play – by C. S Barnes, The Shaking City by Cath Drake and Mutton Rolls by Arji Manuelpillai.

I started doing Yoga with Allison Maxwell who is another gratitude shout out, I helped people and artists learn how to use Zoom effectively, we celebrated the first birthdays online, never expecting we would still be doing the same by the end of the year! I started doing my pilates classes at home.

I finally joined INSTA as there were poets I admire doing things on this platform. My INSTA account is still nothing to shout about and I probably won’t be joining the INSTA Poetry movement anytime soon, but it is a great platform for short video/ workshops and has been fun exploring this year.

I took opportunities offered by Room 204 on developing characters, huge thanks to Stephanie Hatton for letting us be your guinea pigs, I hope the roll out went well. I enjoyed the National Ballet online, a workshop with The Poetry Business and started recording video performances for events. And I discovered the Cuirt Festival of Literature AND more importantly an Irish poet I had read in my teens, Michael Gorman – it was like being reunited with an old friend.

I also had the pleasure of watching Kei Miller and Carolyn Forché with Poets House and Roger Robinson with Writing East Midlands, all poets I have read and admire. I’m lucky enough to have seen Kei and Roger in action several times. These three poets started the pack of recurring poets who became a big part of my lockdown.

I was also working hard completing an animation commission from Elephant’s Footprint for the Arts Council funded ‘Poetry Renewed Project’. I wrote a poem for Rick Sanders PoARTry/ the digital version of his project. My ekphrastic poetry response was based on an artwork created by Alan Glover. I watched most deadlines zoom past and wrote covid and non-covid journals.

It was an action packed month which taught me: I was happy we’d had haircuts the week before the news of Lockdown, the forever-wanted GHDs probably weren’t going to be the most used Christmas present, that I was unlikely to run out of notebooks for a while, that the world is trying to hold itself together, that a smile goes a long way, that facetime and online platforms are a great way to stay connected, what it feels like to spend 5 weeks travelling no more than 1.5 miles from your home.