The Sealey Challenge - Carolyn Forche

(All my daily posts from The Sealey Challenge 2023 can be viewed via the link on my home page.)

The Country Between Us, Carolyn Forché (Jonathan Cape 1983)

I have only two references for the country of El Salvador. One is the Oliver Stone movie, Salvador, from 1986 starring James Woods, which was strongly critical of the US-supported military dictatorship. It is harrowing in parts, as the truth can be. The second reference is Carolyn Forché’s poem, ‘The Colonel’, written after visiting El Salvador as a human rights activist in the late 1970s. It’s a poem you should read. It’s a poem you shouldn’t read. If you do it’s a poem you’ll never forget. If you do, then also read her own account of writing the poem – links to both at the end.

In his poem, ‘In Memory of WB Yeats’, WH Auden famously said, ‘Poetry makes nothing happen’. But then he went on to say, ‘…it survives/in the valley of its making… it survives,/ A way of happening, a mouth.’ He’s not saying that poetry is ineffective only that it doesn’t directly influence things. It survives, its voice is preserved, it remembers; that’s where its power lies.

Because if poetry was really ineffectual, poets would not be arrested and persecuted by regimes. An article in The Guardian from a couple of years ago sheds both an historical and contemporary light on the subject, link at end.

I will not say that the rights and liberties we experience in this country are perfect. But I will say we are more blessed than others. And perhaps that’s a reason for speaking out, against injustice, against prejudice, against wrong-doing, when we perceive them. Because we can.



Forché’s account:

‘The Guardian’, Flogged, imprisoned, murdered: today, being a poet is a dangerous job: