Poetry Book Society Recommendation
Carolyn Forché is one of America’s most important contemporary poets – renowned as a ‘poet of witness’ – as well as an indefatigable human rights activist. Over four decades, she has crafted visionary work that has reinvigorated poetry's power to awaken the reader. Her groundbreaking poems have been testimonies, enquiries and wonderments. They daringly map a territory where poetry asserts our inexhaustible responsibility to each other.
In the Lateness of the World is a dark book of crossings, of migrations across oceans and borders but also between the present and the past, life and death. The poems call to the reader from the end of the world where they are sifting through the aftermath of history. Forché imagines a place where 'you could see everything at once… every moment you have lived or place you have been'. The world here seems to be steadily vanishing, but in the moments before the uncertain end, an illumination arrives and 'there is nothing that cannot be seen'. In the Lateness of the World is a revelation from one of the finest poets writing today.
Her meditative poetry has a majestic sweep, with themes ranging from life on earth and human existence to history, war, genocide and the Holocaust. In the Lateness of the World is her first new collection in seventeen years, and follows three other collections published by Bloodaxe in Britain, The Country Between Us (1981/2019), The Angel of History (1994) and Blue Hour (2003). Jane Miller called Blue Hour ‘a masterwork for the 21st century’. According to Joyce Carol Oates (New York Times Book Review), Forché’s ability to wed the “political” with the “personal” places her in the company of such poets as Pablo Neruda, Philip Levine and Denise Levertov.
'In the Lateness of the World, her fifth book of poems after a hiatus of seventeen years, meditates on questions of witness, displacement and war. Through poems touching on the refugee crisis, genocide, nationalist strongmen and climate emergency, Forché paints a bleak but accurate picture of the West's supposed postwar prosperity. Throughout this new collection, she turns her inimical, at times prophetic, eye onto a still new and unstable century.' - Sandeep Parmar, PBS Selector, Poetry Book Society Spring 2020 Bulletin
'The title of Carolyn Forché’s new collection seems prophetic. Seventeen years in the making, In the Lateness of the World is an act of witness, going repeatedly into the darkness of death and loss. It’s no elegy for a pandemic, but it is a series of portraits of modern history and war: of manmade losses. There are massacres, refugees, and individuals who disappear alone into the turmoil of world events. Yet these fierce elegies are also beautiful...Forché’s almost incantatory way with image produces a strange tone, spell-bound but also emotionally charged, in which time and place shift and blur – because we’re all implicated.' - Fiona Sampson, The Guardian
‘Some of the festival highlights were from poets who read work from across long careers…Carolyn Forché, a human rights activist as well as a poet and teacher, took us on a journey from the civil war in El Salvador to Prague in the days after the Velvet Revolution, via Vietnam, Russia and the refugee camps of southern Europe.’ – Susan Mansfield, The Scotsman, on Carolyn Forché's reading at StAnza International Poetry Festival 2020
‘The sense of grief and loss that permeates the collection becomes intensely personal. It retains at the same time its political bite, as Forché turns her mastery of evocative imagery to the task of exposing to the reader the horrors of war, not at a distance but at an immediate, human scale...a compelling call to action. Forché invites us to witness with her this vision of the past and future of the world, a world of art and poetry, but also burned and ruined by conflict, a ‘grotto of skeletons’. She challenges us to go out into this world, not dispassionately but emotionally engaged, and change it' - Kai Durkin, DURA (Dundee University Review of the Arts) on In the Lateness of the World.
'It has been 17 years since Carolyn Forché published a book of poems, and In the Lateness of the World announces she is back. Coming fast on the heels of her memoir of last year this book is bursting with poems of migration, crossing, and looking back. It is as if the poet is standing, one foot in the river, wondering which way the next crossing will go. Drawing on her own travels and periods of reporting, on the world’s seemingly endless upheaval, these poems move beyond disquiet and creates the charged ethical field in which we all live, all the time, especially at that moment we move.' – John Freeman, Lit Hub
‘Carolyn Forché makes a complex voice for all the mute victims of our destructive world as the killing goes on and the patterns of our lives continue our committed self-destruction. Hers is the heroism which still cares.’ – Robert Creeley
‘Part of poetry’s tragic knowledge is that elegy is endless. Yet in its power to recall and to memorialise, elegy also effaces time and reinvests loss, the lost, with life. It is a form of overcoming, essential to our knowing of, and dwelling in, the present and to our becoming human… Carolyn Forché is one of the contemporary masters of that form, that act’ – Michael Palmer