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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Essential Poetry
On January 22, I received an electronic review copy of Poetry of Witness from W.W. Norton. Like all of the Norton anthologies this book is huge, so I haven’t begun to work my way completely through it, but I am already at a point where I feel that, even if I used every superlative in my writer’s armamentarium, I wouldn’t be doing this collection...
Published 11 months ago by Sarah-Hope

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Got the cover but no book
Problem fixed. Looking forward to reading. Expecting great things, based on the reading I heard by the authors last night.
Published 1 month ago by easyhero


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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Essential Poetry, January 27, 2014
By 
Sarah-Hope (Santa Cruz, CA USA) - See all my reviews
On January 22, I received an electronic review copy of Poetry of Witness from W.W. Norton. Like all of the Norton anthologies this book is huge, so I haven’t begun to work my way completely through it, but I am already at a point where I feel that, even if I used every superlative in my writer’s armamentarium, I wouldn’t be doing this collection justice.

Poetry of Witness, which Forché also calls literature of that-which-happened, has a long history, though I find it less often than I’d like in English-language poetry, which seems more preoccupied with relating the complexity of individual emotion—whether joyful of mournful. Forché’s forward, “Reading the Living Archives: The Witness of Literary Lives,” attempts to forge a definition of poetry of witness that captures its meaning for author, reader, and society alike, concluding

In the poetry of witness, the poems make present to us the experience, rather than a symbolic representation. When we read the poem as witness, we are marked by it and become ourselves witnesses to what it has made present before us. Language incises the page, wounding it with testimonial presence, and the reader is marked by encounter with that presence. Witness begets witness. The text we read becomes a living archive.

Forché reminds us that this living archive is not just figurative, but literal: Anna Akhmatova burned many of her poems after friends had memorized them, keeping them present when their physical presence would have been a very real threat to her life.

Poetry of witness emerges from, not after, experience, since it testifies to experiences that cannot be left behind, cannot become after. Forché argues that the language of poetry of witness is a damaged—and therefore transformed—language. The body of thought, like the body itself can be broken, (partially) rebuilt, mended:

The witness who writes out of extremity writes his or her wound, as if such writing were making an incision. Consciousness itself is cut open. At the site of the wound, language breaks, becomes tentative, interrogational, kaleidoscopic. The form of this language bears the trance of extremity, and may be composed of fragments: questions, aphorisms, broken passages of lyric prose or poetry, quotations, dialogue, brief and lucid passages that may or may not resemble what previously had been written.

This volume, which is arranged chronologically, is a companion to Forché’s 1993 anthology, Against Forgetting (also published by Norton), which focuses on 20th Century poetry of witness. Poetry of Witness, with its broader focus, offers a powerful lineage of refusal, of questioning, on individuals destroyed upon the altars of states. These poems are part of the flow of literary witness across the last five hundred years of our history: long, damaged, glistening strands, like ropes, like rivers, like the twist of dna. By testifying to the worst in us, they preserve not only horror, but the hope of something better.

I don’t have now, and don’t know if I ever will have, words to capture the fierce, essential nature of this collection. I do know I will read and reread it—and, I hope, use it as a spur to thought, word, and action.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading for All Who Seek to Understand The Human Experience, January 28, 2014
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This review is from: Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 (Paperback)
Carolyn Forche has compiled a collection of poems which, in their devastating honesty, offer hope for the human race. Perhaps by acknowledging our own capacity for evil, we can move beyond it in the future. An essential book for all who care!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars REVIEW OF "POETRY OF WITNESS", January 27, 2014
This review is from: Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 (Paperback)
IT IUS A REMARKABLE COLLECTION OF IMPORTANT LITERATURE. MRS FORCHE HAS GIVEN THE WORLD A BOOK TO READ AND RE-READ, AND TO CONSIDER HOW MANKIND TORTURES ITSELF.

RIVA DUNAIEF
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An instant classic, February 11, 2014
This review is from: Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 (Paperback)
Not just art for art's sake, which would be important enough; this compilation of the world's most riveting, important poets is art for humanity's sake. In the realm of the work of Szymborska, Milosz, Herbert, and voices emerging from the ravages of war, this couldn't be a more timely and necessary work. How long are we going to bear witness to the atrocities that our brethren engage in, time and again? Our own loved ones, and our most cherished writers, are united in this eternal question. Against Forgetting, and now Poetry of Witness, should be required reading not only for university curriculums in literature, but also in history. This book is quite possibly the most important anthology of our generation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 500 Years of Poetry Made Fresh, New, February 1, 2014
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This review is from: Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 (Paperback)
A poem of witness, as Carolyn Forché has written here and elsewhere, is not a poem about a calamitous event; not a poem written about the body-and-soul-wrenching experience of war, or torture, or persecution, or disease. It is a poem written in the aftermath. So, then, the poem arises from the experience and is not simply journalistic reportage or political discourse.

“Aftermath is a temporal debris field,” Forché writes in her introductory essay (“Reading the Living Archives: The Witness of Literary Art”), “where historical remains are strewn (of large events as well as those peripheral or lost); where that-which-happened remains present, including the consciousness in which such events arose. . .As such, it calls upon the reader, who is the other of this work, to be, in turn marked by what such language makes present before her, what it holds open and begets in the reader.”

Forché and her editorial collaborator, Duncan Wu, have gathered together in this volume 500 years of poetry in English written in this aftermath. These are poems with which the reader is very likely familiar or knows quite well, but now, within this context of witness, can be read afresh and anew, with greater appreciation, perhaps, for the human consciousness that experienced these events and wrote in their aftermath.

From More and Wyatt to Shelley and Keats; from Whitman, Melville, and Dickinson to Yeats, Kipling and Crane; Shapiro and Stafford to Snodgrass and Gunn — this is a grand and sweeping volume that bears witness to our shared human condition.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Man's capability for inhumanity, November 16, 2014
This review is from: Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 (Paperback)
I was privileged to hear a joint reading by the editors yesterday at a humanities conference in Baltimore.
I was stunned by the impact of their presentation.
Each selected poem was preceded by a brief biography of the poet which accounted for his inclusion as a witness.
One of us asked if it was sometimes necessary to separate themselves from their work for a time because of its power and horror.
Professor Wu responded: "It would have been unprofessional to cry while we were working."
This remarkable and wonderful answer echoed the poems themselves in which there was no mention of tears nor any hint of escape from the inevitable.
The readers held themselves under tight control while reading ... it became clear that the powerfully evocative quality of the poems made witnesses of all of us.
I commend this timeless testament to man's capability for inhumanity.
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5.0 out of 5 stars great addition to Against Forgetting, June 14, 2014
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This review is from: Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 (Paperback)
Forche has done us another great service. Great selections with amazing accompanying insights. An honor to have it on the shelf next to her earlier "Against Forgetting." Powerful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful compilation, March 2, 2014
By 
Michael "Michael" (Walla Walla,WA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 (Paperback)
Wonderful compilation with concise biographies of the poets and the conditions which gave rise to the poems. Kudos to Forchet.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a book that will change the way we speak about our famous poets, February 2, 2014
By 
Evgeny Onegin "ik001fyahoo" (San Francisco, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 (Paperback)
This is a a kind of book that will change many things. It will change how we speak about the famous poets of our tradition - Keats, Dickinson, etc. lived in a larger world and wrote passionately toward that world. This anthology teaches us to see in a completely different light the poems we may have already loved, read and memorized . It also teaches us about new poems, new voices from the past, new perspective on our own tradition, history, and the ways in which a lyric voice responds to that history. It is--above all--an extremely moving human document. Forche and Wu have compiled a book that shows us the terror of humanity and its music, a book that sings and laments, that loves and protests. It is a book to live with.
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5.0 out of 5 stars We are very fortunate to have this second edited volume of verse, September 4, 2014
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Forché is superb in all that she undertakes as a poet and scholar. We are very fortunate to have this second edited volume of verse, one which offers the reader the Poetry of Witness from those poets writing in English.
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Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001
Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001 by Carolyn Forche (Paperback - January 27, 2014)
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