2021 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Poetry
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 American activist and poet Carolyn Forche's In the Lateness of the World has a global scope and a revelatory quality, as if she is writing from the end times... Forché’s style is meditative and mystical: this is a poet who lingers and puts pressure on language.' - Tom Williams, Literary Review
'In these troubled times, poetry like Carolyn Forché's can lend insight, but it can also salve and elegise the present moment. Auden once wrote that poetry makes nothing happen, but in Forche's work, her life-long commitment to poetry and the poetic utterance, we see how poetry can transform. Both What You Have Heard Is True and In the Lateness of the World are essential reading not only for anyone interested in poetry, but in the world we live in.' - Dr Paul Perry, Sunday Independent [reviewing Carolyn Forché's memoir together with her new collection In the Lateness of the World]
'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
'Carolyn Forché's In the Lateness of the World seeks to give voice to the speechless poor in a century of endless war and environmental disaster... It's a beautifully apocalyptic collection about exile, dangerous crossings, burned bridges and lost cities.' - Andy Croft, Morning Star
'The vision and range of her poems is vast - encompassing history, geography and philosophy - but it’s her language and lyrical skill I love, at times majestic, at times surprising but nearly always sublime... I do think Carolyn is one of the greatest living writers in English.' - Hugh McMillan, Poems from the Backroom
‘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.
'Forché is so sensitive to the breadth and complexity of what she writes about that she refuses to diminish it by offering a single token example or a glib and flashy description or a too-easy simplified analysis... this is a collection in which something rewarding will strike you afresh at each re-reading.' - Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, London Grip on In the Lateness of the World
‘Forché’s great skill is to witness without drifting into hyperbolic elegy; to distance herself, instead, from the events she is witnessing… Forché’s great need is to be able to write about the things she sees without becoming so involved and overcome that she is not able to witness with all the skill she possesses.’ – Ian Pople, The Manchester Review on In the Lateness of the World
'...Carolyn Forché's In the Lateness of the World is an uncompromising, richly-textured and elegiac narrative on migration, crossings and social justice... through her dexterous use of form and poetic language, these haunting poems remind us of art as a unifying and healing force during and despite political change or crisis.' - Jennifer Wong, PN Review
'There are times when the truth of a poem speaks so directly to its context, that reading it provokes an almost physiological reaction: your pulse quickens, and you feel as if something essential has shifted in your understanding of the present. Few poets can maintain that urgency throughout a collection without sounding shrill or forced... But the two books reviewed here [Carolyn Forché's In the Lateness of the World and Deborah Landau's Soft Targets] achieve precisely that. Both are so effective at demanding an affective response that they shake the reader out of the sofa’s comfort, all the better to address the injustices of our moment (which has been ‘marred by slaughter’, in Deborah Landau’s words), and impart a visceral recognition of our own agency vis-à-vis the otherwise inscrutable weight of the world’s pain.' - Theophilus Kwek, The North