Carolyn Forché’s The Country Between Us bears witness to what she saw in El Salvador in the late 1970s, when she travelled around a country erupting into civil war. Documenting killings and other brutal human rights abuses, while working alongside Archbishop Oscar Romero’s church group, she found in her poetry the only possible way to come to terms with what she was experiencing first-hand.
By 1980, when the fighting was becoming too dangerous, Archbishop Romero urged Forché to return home, asking her to ‘talk to the American people, tell them what is happening to us. Convince them to stop the military aid.' A week later he was assassinated (and is only now being made a saint). Back in the US, Forché gave readings and talks about US-backed oppression in Central America, but found publishers and critics uncomfortable with the startlingly different poems of her second collection, poems relating to torture, murder, injustice and trauma. When the book appeared in 1981, at a time when the conflict in El Salvador had finally forced its way into public awareness, it won her immediate recognition.
Briefly available in Britain from Jonathan Cape in the 1980s, it was reissued by Bloodaxe to coincide with the publication by Penguin of Carolyn Forché’s long awaited memoir of those times, What You Have Heard Is True: a memoir of witness and resistance (Penguin, 2018) followed by a new collection from Bloodaxe, In the Lateness of the World (2020).
The Country Between Us has sold tens of thousands of copies on the US, where it has never been out of print. It won the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets.
‘Her collection of poems The Country Between Us (1981) has been reissued to accompany the memoir. It was a bestseller at a time when many Americans were increasingly aware and ashamed of US-sponsored brutality in its “backyard”. It’s fascinating to see how the two works qualify and complement each other across the intervening decades.’ – Lorna Scott Fox, Times Literary Supplement
‘The problem of ‘translating’ the untranslatable into poetry is at the heart of Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between Us... The book was first published in 1981, when Forche returned to the US from El Salvador, where she had been working as a journalist. It is back in print to coincide with the publication of her memoir of those times, What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance. It is a book about imperialism, genocide and atrocity (“There is nothing one man will not do to another”). Nearly 40 years later, the poems still possess a shocking power…’ - Andy Croft, Morning Star
'Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of Forché’s The Country Between Us emerges from her ability to confront politics and history, beyond their national and cultural boundaries. It reaches out to a readership who might not ordinarily read poetry. The strength of the collection is underlined by the honesty in exposing human suffering. It is done with sensitivity, maturity and without condescendence. A collection which opens a wider range of questions about the meaning of history' - Maria Stadnicka, Stride
‘That Forché’s poems have not dated a day is a tragic indictment of humanity’s endless capacity to make the same mistakes and to commit the same crimes. However, they also demonstrate poetry’s power to bear witness and to play its part in speaking truth to power.’ – John Field, Poor Rude Lines [on The Country Between Us]
‘Carolyn Forché is an American poet, editor, translator and activist... Her memoir What You Have Heard Is True tells the powerful story of how she became caught up in the brutality, complexity and idealism of revolutionary El Salvador in the 1970s. The reissued collection The Country Between Us is her poetic response to the same period.’ – Traveller magazine
'Forché’s powerful book creates its own narrative trajectory... It is a little glib, perhaps, to suggest that although Forché’s poems are set some forty years distant, the choices she adumbrates are utterly contemporary. But the timely reissue of this book makes its relevance clear.' - Ian Pople, The Manchester Review
Carolyn Forché reads from The Country Between Us
Carolyn Forché reads two poems from The Country Between Us, ‘The Visitor’ and ‘The Colonel’. Neil Astley filmed her reading a selection of her poems in London in July 2014. Her readings of ‘The Colonel’ and extracts from The Angel of History are included in the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed & edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2017).