Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché’s first volume of poetry, Gathering the Tribes, winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, was followed by The Country Between Us, The Angel of History, and Blue Hour. She is also the author of the memoir What You Have Heard Is True (Penguin Press, 2019), a finalist for the National Book Award and longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. She has translated Mahmoud Darwish, Claribel Alegria, and Robert Desnos. Her famed international anthology, Against Forgetting, has been praised by Nelson Mandela as ‘itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice’. In 1998 in Stockholm, she received the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture Award for her human rights advocacy and the preservation of memory and culture. She received the Wyndham Campbell Prize in poetry in 2017. She is visiting professor at Newcastle University, and University Professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Don J. Usner

Events

Poetry Centre Stage »

A double bill of poetry to start your weekend in style
20:00 Reading –  Michael Longley
21:00 Reading – Carolyn Forché

Fri 6 March | 20:00 - 22:00 | £10.00/£8.50 | Byre Theatre, Abbey Street, Auditorium

Creative Writing Workshop »

A poetry workshop led by Carolyn Forché

Sat 7 March | 10:30 - 12:30 | £7.00 | Public Library, Church Square, Meeting Room

Poem

The Boatman

We were thirty-one souls all, he said, on the gray-sick of sea
in a cold rubber boat, rising and falling in our filth.
By morning this didn’t matter, no land was in sight,
all were soaked to the bone, living and dead.
We could still float, we said, from war to war.
What lay behind us but ruins of stone piled on ruins of stone?
City called “mother of the poor” surrounded by fields
of cotton and millet, city of jewelers and cloak-makers,
with the oldest church in Christendom and the Sword of Allah.
If anyone remains there now, he assures, they would be utterly alone.
There is a hotel named for it in Rome two hundred meters
from the Piazza di Spagna, where you can have breakfast under
the portraits of film stars. There the staff cannot do enough for you.
But I am talking nonsense again, as I have since that night
we fetched a child, not ours, from the sea, drifting face-
down in a life vest, its eyes taken by fish or the birds above us.
After that, Aleppo went up in smoke, and Raqqa came under a rain
of leaflets warning everyone to go. Leave, yes, but go where?
We lived through the Americans and Russians, through Americans
again, many nights of death from the clouds, mornings surprised
to be waking from the sleep of death, still unburied and alive
but with no safe place. Leave, yes, we obey the leaflets, but go where?
To the sea to be eaten, to the shores of Europe to be caged?
To camp misery and camp remain here. I ask you then, where?
You tell me you are a poet. If so, our destination is the same.
I find myself now the boatman, driving a taxi at the end of the world.
I will see that you arrive safely, my friend, I will get you there.

Carolyn Forché

From In the Lateness of the World (Bloodaxe Books, 2020)

Listen to Carolyn reading 'The Boatman' here.