In the afternoon I went to the Writers' Institute series on the campus of the University at Albany for a seminar by the poet Carolyn Forché. W.W. Norton & Company has just released the anthology Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 - 2001, edited by Forché & Duncan Wu. Her earlier anthology Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993) is what I like to call "my desert island book," a text to which I keep returning. Much of the audience were young students in poetry classes, including some who are studying Forché's long poem "On Earth" from her 2003 collection Blue Hour: Poems. Of course, there were faculty members & a grey contingent of community poets.
|Carolyn Forche & Don Faulkner|
So the contrast I referred to above was between the outward-looking “poetry of witness” & the inward gaze of self-exploration (& it’s twin sister look-at-me-ain’t-I-special). I've done both in my poems over the years. I've come to realize that an engaged art is the product of both — an artist who examines who she or he is in the world while confronting the wider world around them, & then learning to respond to that world as an artist. & it now occurs to me that Jade Sylvan’s examination of gender & the other roles we play is the same discussion as that of “branding” earlier in the day with Carolyn Forché. We need it all.