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Analysis

Poetry of Witness

At the time it was written, this poem likely felt more like a snapshot of a time and place, rather than Forché's calling card. Her first book, Gathering the Tribes (1975) was about her adolescence and identity, written in a personal, vulnerable, but tough style that won her the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. This poem, and others in The Country Between Us (1981), represents a departure and marked Forché as a "poet of witness." After all, who wants to keep writing the same kind of book over and over, right?

Poetry of witness, then, is a new kind of poetry, in your grille, tough, and confrontational. The directness and plainness of this poem wave the awful truth in the face of readers so there's no way to hide. And, whether she wanted to or not, Forché has become a flag-bearer for this kind of poetry. She has become a political poet, showing where the personal and the political meet. As Forché says herself, there's no other way to say this. The facts are laid out as a kind of dispassionate inventory, the better to shock you with, my dear. Katha Pollit from The Nation said Forché's poems have the "immediacy of war correspondence, postcards from the volcano of twentieth-century barbarism." You bet this one does.

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