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Against Forgetting


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Carolyn Forche, poet, translator, and activist, is professor of English at Georgetown University. She has published two award-winning volumes of poetry, Gathering the Tribes and The Country Between Us. In 1990 Ms. Fourche received a Lannan Literary Award, granted to poets and writers of literary excellence "whose work promotes a truer understanding of contemporary life." Her most recent volume of poetry is Blue Hour


This large volume assembles the work of nearly 150 poets, all marked in some direct way by the century's wars or devastations. Many of the poets did not survive these conflicts--some painfully perfect works by the Hungarian Miklos Radnoti were exhumed with his body from a mass grave in 1946--and others survived only to commit suicide later on. As an anthologist, poet Forche ( The Country Between Us ) vows to present a ``poetic memorial to those who suffered and resisted through poetry itself,'' rather than to propose a ``canon'' of their works, but her book honors both intentions. Apart from the voices' high moral ground, the common preference for laconic understatement is notable; objectified horrors seem to expunge any bent toward self-pity or sententiousness. Forche's attempt to avoid a Eurocentric collection is limited by what is available in a ``quality translation''; only two Asian poets (both Chinese) are featured, and among the several African poets included here, all but one (Afrikaans poet Breyten Breytenbach) write in English. She generally chooses recent and fresh-sounding translations (John Felstiner's rendering of Paul Celan's ``Death Fugue,'' for example, is boldly effective). Poets are grouped in association with their respective historical focal points--e.g., the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, and 13 others. (Mar . )

From every continent comes the news that our age is an age of murder and repression on a scale unimagined before. And yet I can't peruse this book without marveling at what beauty these writers have made of the calamity called the Twentieth Century. I would not have thought a poetry anthology could be so stirring.--Arthur Miller

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