Our good friend, poet Ilya Kaminsky, knows contemporary poetry like no one else. We’re proud to be publishing his mini-reviews and one-question interviews with poets we admire.
While critics have long lauded Carolyn Forché’s work as poetry that speaks to the ethical urgency of our moment, what is also so clear in her book, In the Lateness of the World, is her belief that a poet’s art is to make a pact with the world. This pact is one of being a keeper of memory, of paying attentiveness to the aftermath of destruction. It is also one of voicing tenderness and clarity for survival. Hers is the kind of witness that doesn’t just tell us that horror has taken place, but one that (with the gorgeous vividness of her imagery) shows how to go on. Turning the pages of this book, the reader quickly realizes that Forché’s poetry is as spiritual as it is a work of witness. In fact, for Forché the two are inseparable. By the end, despite so much destruction that she has seen around us in this century, Forché still believes in our species, still shows a path forward: “All who come / All who come into the world / All who come into the world are sent. / Open your curtain of spirit.” This is great poetry.
QUESTION: What is the relationship between life in the larger world, and life of the spirit, for you? What is the relationship between language and memory for you?
CAROLYN FORCHÉ: For me, the relationship is one of presence. Of awareness. We think of spirit as an animating force, an emanation, moving through the world among us and also arising within ourselves, luminous and woven, and everywhere at once. Spirit is also in language, as language is the embodiment of an encounter with the world. The life of the spirit is nourished both in solitude and in communion with others.
Poems can be vessels of memory, broken vessels reassembled in language, language that is itself assembled, the pieces grouted with silence, with thought and light, and as with all such vessels shattered and repaired, there is a resemblance to the original memory, but the poem is not what is remembered. The poem is language emanating remembrance.
Language both generates and archives meaning, bearing the mark of all that has happened. Memory is an archive of encounters and attentions, voluntary and involuntary, continuous, or ruptured. Memory can be cratered, obliterated, wounded. Language as a life-form bears the epigenetic signature of all that has been endured. It is in language that memory is retrieved, and in memory, both collective and personal, that language comes into being. It is not at all surprising, then, that they intersect in the same region of the human brain, the hippocampus, the deep center.