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.
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.