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Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness Paperback – May 17, 1993

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Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness + Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 + The Country Between Us
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (May 17, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393309762
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393309768
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #300,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Poetry cannot block a bullet or still a sjambok, but it can bear witness to brutality—thereby cultivating a flower in a graveyard. Carolyn Fourché's Against Forgetting is itself a blow against tyranny, against prejudice, against injustice. It bears witness to the evil we would prefer to forget, but never can—and never should.” (Nelson Mandela)

“In a class by itself, edited and and introduced with precise passion and Olympian breadth, Against Forgetting encapsulates both the horrors of our century and the power of musical language to make a place to live, breathe, hope, love.” (Calvin Bedient)

“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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Customer Reviews

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Whether you love poetry or history, this is a worthwhile read.
eve burton
It is one of the peculiarities of life that it is often at the brink of destruction that we see most clearly what our hearts have always spoken to us.
Unlike many anthologies, Forché provides a wonderful introduction, and short biographies of each poet.
Bruce Oksol

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By edward j. santella on April 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
to the common lot, / survivor of that time, that place." Anna Akhmatova, one of the poets included in this anthology, wrote those words in the years before WWII as she struggled to survive, and express, life under Stalin.
Carolyn Forche has assembled this collection of poems, each of which expresses, in their own time and place, witness. This is not an idle witness, a standing by, a cool, detached observance. Forche writes in her introduction, "Modernity ...is marked by a superstitious worship of oppressive force and by a concomitant reliance on oblivion." The witness of these poets neither worships force nor accepts oblivion.
The effect of reading these poems, written in the face of war, genocide, oppression, despair and racism, even reading one or two at a time as I have been doing, raises the possibility that war, genocide, oppression, despair and racism are abject failures. Whatever their effects, they accomplish nothing. Resistance counts for everything. Pasternak, an included poet, described his novel in words which describe this volume: "besides the importance of described human lots and historical events there is an effort ... to portray the whole sequence of facts and beings and happenings like some moving entireness, like a developing, passing by, rolling and rushing inspiration, as if reality itself had freedom and choice and was composing itself out of numberless varients and versions."
Men and women from every continent give lie in their poems to the sad accusation that 'human dignity' and 'human rights' are 'western' or 'american' ideas imposed on the rest of the world. The oppressors are as likely to be 'western' and 'american' as anyone else. The witnesses "Against Forgetting" are everyone.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By "alenchik" on August 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
This volume was the focus of a poetry course (taught by Daniel Berrigan, whose poems are included in the text) I took as an undergrad. Unlike most college texts of which I have since disposed, _Against Forgetting_ easily became a cherished part of my library. This brilliant anthology is compiled with great respect and admiration for those remarkable individuals whose poetry it contains. It is a testament to human strengths, weaknesses, victories and failures, selfless love and senseless cruelty. Most importantly, it is illustrative of the unmistakably triumphant power of words woven into lines and stanzas. And, as such, this collection is incredibly empowering and inspiring. Needless to say, it is also a tribute to all who have ever perished in bitter wars and torturous exile... The poets whose work appears herein give voice, by extention, to those whose thoughts and speech were muffled and will never be heard.
Each section opens with an introduction to the era and the theme(i.e. "The Holocaust", "Repression in Eastern and Central Europe", "War in the Middle East"), and a very short biographical piece accompanies each poet's selection.
Wislawa Szymborska's "Children of the Epoch" ('We are children of the epoch. The epoch is political...') reflects many of the sentiments expressed throughout the entire volume, and is one of my favorites.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
This "poetic memorial to those who suffered and resisted through poetry itself" (31) collects poems of witness from the Armenian genocide by Turkey to the anti-democracy repression of contemporary communist China, with World War I, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Vietnam, the battle for civil rights in the U.S., and the repressions of Central and South America in between. And more. It's pretty obvious here that, against the grain of much contemporary American poetry, poetry *does* have something to do with politics, especially as politics intrudes into the lives of people with destructive force.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Hortensia Anderson on February 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
The purposes of the anothology are stated in the title: Against Forgetting. Poetry of Witness. Forche confines the anthology to the century we have defined ourselves by - the XXth. Yet, the sections have explanations - material provided by Forche proving that already, this amnesia to the horrors of violence has been dooming us to repeat ourselves.

How better to transmit the lessons of culture, of the "political" and "patriotic" (along with their varying definitions) than through poetry?

The selections in this collection have been thoughtfully made and the translations are excellent. Without exception, we have a volume to force us to reflect, to ask ourselves difficult questions. We might not like our answers but perhaps we will have our own poems as well, and our poems will serve as an antidote to forgetting - perhaps they too, will bear witness should we not be able to.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A. Hogan VINE VOICE on January 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
Carolyn Forche has edited and collected one of the very,very few books that I would not want to be without.the poetry here starts with the Armenian genocide and works up until the Democracy movement in China in the early 90's. From the Shoah to the Russian winter,from the Middle east to the Spanish Civil War Ms. Forche` puts together the famous{Auden, Cummings,Pasternak, Garcia Lorca] to the little known at least here {Natayla Gorbenevskya, Nazim Hikmet...} I believe this to be a book necessary to understand the 20th century, surely the century of dictators and genocide,and also the century of hope and progress for so many...Ms. Forche is to be saluted,and thanked for this staggering,epochal effort.
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