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Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness

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Bearing witness to extremity—whether of war, torture, exile, or repression—the volume encompasses more than 140 poets from five continents, over the span of this century from the Armenian genocide to Tiananmen Square.


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Bearing witness to extremity—whether of war, torture, exile, or repression—the volume encompasses more than 140 poets from five continents, over the span of this century from the Armenian genocide to Tiananmen Square.

30 review for Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Marie

    I read this for my Poetry & Protest class and I just wanted to catalogue the poems that I read on Goodreads. I'd love to read this whole collection someday and hopefully I will, but for now, here are the poems that I have read: "A Working Party" by Siegfried Sassoon Really intense poem that paints a picture of WWI and the trenches. "Burning Shit at An Khe" by Bruce Weigl Wonderful poem about the shit experiences (literally and figuratively) that the Vietnam War brought to the soldiers. I love the l I read this for my Poetry & Protest class and I just wanted to catalogue the poems that I read on Goodreads. I'd love to read this whole collection someday and hopefully I will, but for now, here are the poems that I have read: "A Working Party" by Siegfried Sassoon Really intense poem that paints a picture of WWI and the trenches. "Burning Shit at An Khe" by Bruce Weigl Wonderful poem about the shit experiences (literally and figuratively) that the Vietnam War brought to the soldiers. I love the last sentence. "I lay down in it and fingerpaint the words of who I am across my chest until I'm covered and there's only one smell, one word." "A Mirror of the Twentieth Century" by Adonis It's a very short poem and I don't have many thoughts on it. Not really my style. "Still" by Wislawa Szymborska I loved this poem a lot. It's beautiful and harrowing. It spoke to me on a deeper level than I thought it would. "Song of the Juggler" by Heberto Padilla I loved this one so much. There was just something about it that really spoke to me and I am a big fan of it. "Stretch out your hands to me" by Bei Dao I didn't like this one much. I'm not one for love poems. They don't really sway me and this one while pretty in prose is not my taste. Everything else in this review is read at my own leisure. This is a very thick collection, but I really want to complete this collection of poetry. I will only be including poems or authors I think are worth mentioning. *Siamonto's poetry is really captivating and I enjoyed both of the poems contained in this collection. *The Little Car by Guillaume Apollinaire is one of the most moving poems I've ever read and the lay out of the poem is beautiful. *I'm not a fan of Gottfriend Benn at all. *I read one of Siegried Sassoon's poems for class and I loved the ones that are included, especially The Death-Bed. * I can't stand e.e. cummings. *Anna Akhmatova is one of the best poets I've ever read. I adored all of the poems in this collection and there are quite a few. Highly recommend checking her out. *Boris Pasternak's poem "Hamlet" was my essay choice and I love this poem so much. Pasternak is an interesting person and this poem is so moving and I just love everything about it and what it has to offer. It will take far too long to catalogue all the poems in this novel and I'm just going to leave this review with these thoughts. Against Forgetting offers an expansive range of poetry from diverse perspectives in times of war, exile, inhumane acts of cruelty, and a culmination of every hard hitting topic you can think of. It's a great look into different uprisings and wars that have occurred and the voices of those who were witnesses, either as soldiers, bystanders, or victims, packs a punch. This collection is huge. It could easily knock someone out and with that being said, it's important to keep in mind that poetry is very self-aware and private for the poet. This means that certain poems or poets may not be for everyone and I can truly attest to that statement. I stopped trying to read every single poem and skim read a poem. If it didn't hook or grip me, then I skipped it. I'm unapologetic about it because not every poem will grip me and shake me to my core, but a few of these did and even more of them got me thinking and allowed me to reflective on topics which is the aim of poetry. I'd say this is a successful collection worth checking out if you are interested in world topics and broadening you poetry perspective. Overall Rating: 3.25 stars

  2. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Extremity - that which pushes us to the edge of experience - is a universal touchstone. And upon it, those who once believed they suffered alone through their tortures can find innumerable company. It is what joins "them" and "us." We must speak our experiences, our pain, the hurt that endeavors to isolate each of us from one another. This is that which has a common language, if only we attempt to voice it to someone, anyone else. Think on those things that make you want to laugh, shout, rejoic Extremity - that which pushes us to the edge of experience - is a universal touchstone. And upon it, those who once believed they suffered alone through their tortures can find innumerable company. It is what joins "them" and "us." We must speak our experiences, our pain, the hurt that endeavors to isolate each of us from one another. This is that which has a common language, if only we attempt to voice it to someone, anyone else. Think on those things that make you want to laugh, shout, rejoice, wail - that which causes you to truly feel beyond the usual, the mundane, the everyday. Those are what we should share. Those are the links of commonality between us despite any distances of geography, culture, creed, or time. An anthology that attempts to bear testament to the extreme of human experience and endurance, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness was edited by the esteemed poet Carolyn Forche. The heavy volume draws from other noted poets throughout the former century, across a broad spectrum of tumultuous human rights events - war, torture, exile, repression - from the Armenian genocide to World War II to Tiananmen Square. It certainly doesn't cover everything that it could and should, and that is my only qualm with the anthology - but save that for the second volume, which is sure to come. Here, the collected works of these poets are each unique in detail and voice. Yet there is a connecting harmony running through every one that is, at first, faint and gentle. But it builds as a reader ventures farther within, gathering strength, creating a familiar rhythm that deeply resonates. And it lingers, continuing to sing - erasing that which has always seemed insurmountable. So that we can look upon one another with some bit of recognition, no matter the superficial differences present. That should stay at the forefront of every individual's mind after finishing Against Forgetting. Take the title as a motto, a creed, and a purpose to carry with as you move through this vast and varied world.

  3. 4 out of 5

    stephanie

    this anthology is absolutely incredible. it has poems from like, every war/skirmish in the twentieth century. it has poets you haven't heard of, it has famous poets, it's the absolute perfect blend. i love picking it up and just opening to a page and seeing what i'll find. i particularly like the poetry coming out of bosnia-herzegovina, and of course, yeheda amichai and people like owen and sasson, etc. it's just a really lovely collection that strives to pick pieces from all parts - the holocau this anthology is absolutely incredible. it has poems from like, every war/skirmish in the twentieth century. it has poets you haven't heard of, it has famous poets, it's the absolute perfect blend. i love picking it up and just opening to a page and seeing what i'll find. i particularly like the poetry coming out of bosnia-herzegovina, and of course, yeheda amichai and people like owen and sasson, etc. it's just a really lovely collection that strives to pick pieces from all parts - the holocaust gets as much attention as living behind the iron curtain, and i feel like that's so lacking in poetry collections. carolyn forche proves to be an excellent editor in this case, and it makes me want to learn more languages so i can translate poetry for projects like this.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth W.

    I read a poem a day from the anthology "Against Forgetting" for almost 3 weeks. I wanted to bring the poems to the daily reading of my newspaper, de-anaesthetize myself, think about the poems I might write, or paintings I might make if I allowed myself to be more vulnerable to what was dark in this time in America. I wanted to prove the point to myself that poetry, art, does have the power to change. I used myself as the subject of the experiment. It does. This is a book that should be on everyon I read a poem a day from the anthology "Against Forgetting" for almost 3 weeks. I wanted to bring the poems to the daily reading of my newspaper, de-anaesthetize myself, think about the poems I might write, or paintings I might make if I allowed myself to be more vulnerable to what was dark in this time in America. I wanted to prove the point to myself that poetry, art, does have the power to change. I used myself as the subject of the experiment. It does. This is a book that should be on everyone who wants to be reminded of the violence inflicted on human beings by institutionalized violence. It is easy to desensitize oneself to the images that come at us via the media. The poets tell of the suffering behind them.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I had the opportunity to take this class with Guggenheim award winning poet Carolyn Forche in college. She is an amazing poet, and probably one of the few professors I had that could speak throughout the course of a three hour class and you would never get bored. The class was about poetry of witness, or rather poetry that is written during a time when your country or your people are in war or experiencing genocide. Essentially, she created the anthology to feature the individual voices amidst e I had the opportunity to take this class with Guggenheim award winning poet Carolyn Forche in college. She is an amazing poet, and probably one of the few professors I had that could speak throughout the course of a three hour class and you would never get bored. The class was about poetry of witness, or rather poetry that is written during a time when your country or your people are in war or experiencing genocide. Essentially, she created the anthology to feature the individual voices amidst each nation's grief. It was probably one of the most thought provoking courses I have ever taken. She is also a lovely person.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Erik Caswell

    what a TOME. I did not finish all. skimmed & scammed parts of each "section". these sections are grouped according to periods of time that characterized atrocities of the 20th century. introduced to poets I've never heard of. I like this collection because the social & visionary quality of poetry is at the center of the anthology. that it has a function; that it can guide us; that it lives beyond the page. ie poetry is not a luxury, audre lorde. what a TOME. I did not finish all. skimmed & scammed parts of each "section". these sections are grouped according to periods of time that characterized atrocities of the 20th century. introduced to poets I've never heard of. I like this collection because the social & visionary quality of poetry is at the center of the anthology. that it has a function; that it can guide us; that it lives beyond the page. ie poetry is not a luxury, audre lorde.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karlo Mikhail

    Altogether a great collection of testimonial poetry if it weren't stymied by the editor's framing of the book along the backdrop of achieving Western bourgeois democratic freedoms and civil liberties. The coverage is skewed predominantly towards Anglo-American concerns (too many about the European theatres of the First and Second World Wars, American civil rights movement, Vietnam War poems by Americans, etc.) while the selection of poems from the rest of the world focuses mainly on countries kn Altogether a great collection of testimonial poetry if it weren't stymied by the editor's framing of the book along the backdrop of achieving Western bourgeois democratic freedoms and civil liberties. The coverage is skewed predominantly towards Anglo-American concerns (too many about the European theatres of the First and Second World Wars, American civil rights movement, Vietnam War poems by Americans, etc.) while the selection of poems from the rest of the world focuses mainly on countries known to be enemies of the global capitalist order (too much on Soviet Russia, Socialist China, Eastern Europe). Anyhow, I appreciate the inclusion of poems from the struggle against the US-sponsored Latin American dictatorships, the Holocaust, the Spanish Civil War, the West Asian struggles for self-determination, among others. The anthology would have been greatly enriched if it included more poets from Third World struggles for national liberation.

  8. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    An incredible, essential, and rare collection of modern poetry with an actual, meaningful core theme: war is fucking horrible. Well, let's qualify that: death is fucking horrible. And every single poem in this excellent volume makes that startlingly clear, sometimes gruffly, roughly, and other times lovely. Forche, an excellent poet in her own rights, did a stellar job selecting and commenting on the works featured here. The stuff is broken up by conflict (World War I, Holocaust, Civil Rights, e An incredible, essential, and rare collection of modern poetry with an actual, meaningful core theme: war is fucking horrible. Well, let's qualify that: death is fucking horrible. And every single poem in this excellent volume makes that startlingly clear, sometimes gruffly, roughly, and other times lovely. Forche, an excellent poet in her own rights, did a stellar job selecting and commenting on the works featured here. The stuff is broken up by conflict (World War I, Holocaust, Civil Rights, etc.), so I guess it's also about struggle. Struggle and conflict, yes. There's a pretty fair representation here (even some German and Japanese poets of WWII) and the quality of the works themselves go back and forth (I didn't care for most of the stuff form the Vietnam era), but that's not Forche's fault. A great, great compendium.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Laura Hartmark

    Forche's poem "The Colonel" says "This really happened..." Likewise, the poems she chose as editor for this painful historical anthology remind us that war, genocide and oppression really happened. It's not beach reading. It will tear open your heart and leave it exposed to the cold air. But it is the broken hearted who become the best healers. I can do nothing but recommend this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lohr

    This is one of the best poetry anthologies ever.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Gauche

    If I could give it 4.5 stars, I probably would. This is an incredible collection of poetry, and has introduced me to many new favourite poets. Additionally, Forché has done an immense amount of work in researching and summarizing complex historical events and biographies. However, I found Forché's affected neutrality in some of the descriptions and biographies to be grating, and some of the facts appear dubious (such as the statement that a mass shooting perpetuated by the Israeli army was a "mi If I could give it 4.5 stars, I probably would. This is an incredible collection of poetry, and has introduced me to many new favourite poets. Additionally, Forché has done an immense amount of work in researching and summarizing complex historical events and biographies. However, I found Forché's affected neutrality in some of the descriptions and biographies to be grating, and some of the facts appear dubious (such as the statement that a mass shooting perpetuated by the Israeli army was a "mistake", something I could not find any corroboration of). Additionally, since this is part- historical documentation, and part- poetry anthology, I would have appreciated it if all of the poems had their date of original publication listed in the body of the text. Grievances aired, I still think this is a phenomenal anthology, and would recommend it to anyone interested in a survey of 20th century poetry.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shari

    An ambitious catalog "remembering" human rights atrocities and genocide from around the globe with a glaring error. You'd think a poet would see through it—aren't poets supposed to have vision? I suppose that's what bothers me the most. Ms. Forche pretty much ignored the mass genocides of North America's indigenous peoples by the United States government. I checked the publisher, WW Norton and Co., and it's based in New York, so what gives? It seems that to Ms. Forche, it doesn't matter that Hitle An ambitious catalog "remembering" human rights atrocities and genocide from around the globe with a glaring error. You'd think a poet would see through it—aren't poets supposed to have vision? I suppose that's what bothers me the most. Ms. Forche pretty much ignored the mass genocides of North America's indigenous peoples by the United States government. I checked the publisher, WW Norton and Co., and it's based in New York, so what gives? It seems that to Ms. Forche, it doesn't matter that Hitler learned how to use human skin for clothing and ornamental items from the United States butchering Indians. It doesn't matter that America taught Hitler the fine art of relocating people and cutting off their food supply, or that America taught Hitler to stick folks in camps without food so they died from starvation, and gun them down if they tried to escape. It doesn't matter that we demonstrated how to infect a race of people with disease, like when our US Army gave smallpox-infested wool blankets to Natives. Though we taught Hitler the exquisitely perfected skill of turning a race of people into a non-people for slaughter and financial gain, Hitler did give America credit for this, so I suppose it's not worthy of much poetry. Importantly, we taught Hitler how to teach people not to care. This is challenging, but still being perfected. Ms. Forche's tome is another critical step in this Hitlerian direction, brilliantly assisting with the ongoing blindfolding of the American literary populace. Well, maybe it wasn't such a big oversight. It's just a small thing in a large book. It's such a comprehensive book; it couldn't be expected to include everything. Besides, we remember braves in Atlanta, and we remember red skins in Washington. Americans remember at high schools and colleges during football games, and in outdoor education programs for our children. We remember when we dress up for Halloween and Thanksgiving. We remember when we need a costume or mascot, or a rad new tattoo. So it's really not a big thing at all, to leave out a few billion people slaughtered on American soil. Who cares? There were other more important (and less embarrassing) genocides to poetically catalog. I fully understand how much work went into this compilation; it is truly quite impressive. Perhaps this singular oversight doesn't matter. I feel honored and grateful to simply sit in the presence of such an important book. I would love to show my gratitude to the editor. I've made you a lovely blanket woven of the finest wool. You'll enjoy it's warp and weft, the deep shade of blue warming your tired shoulders. You must be exhausted after such an effort. You should be rewarded. Come, you must try my blanket soon.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Heather

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  14. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This is great for teaching purposes, if you're interested in the idea of poetry as an act of witness, which is the approach I took for my class at Rabouin, a public high school here. The issue I have with the book is that a lot of the writing isn't that good, or it just doesn't hold up outside of the poet's biography. There is a good deal of variety in style, though; at least, you can find it if you're looking for it. Lots of surrealism, absurdist prose poems, etc., mixed in with the expected fi This is great for teaching purposes, if you're interested in the idea of poetry as an act of witness, which is the approach I took for my class at Rabouin, a public high school here. The issue I have with the book is that a lot of the writing isn't that good, or it just doesn't hold up outside of the poet's biography. There is a good deal of variety in style, though; at least, you can find it if you're looking for it. Lots of surrealism, absurdist prose poems, etc., mixed in with the expected first person lyrics.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

    A very comprehensive anthology of poems during various war times (many of which we rarely hear about), framed in the interesting, helpful context of forgetting and remembering. There is some great work in here, and excellent feats of translation. But it's very easy to get saturated in the horrors of the subject--don't read it all at once if you can avoid it!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    I use this book so much that it is literally falling apart. I believe that literature is one of the most useful warriors when shown with images. So often, an artist's portrayal of injustice is a singular brave voice calling others to see, to witness, to feel, to change. Forche's collection is masterful and is a fine foundation for further exploration in history.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    Great collection. The many voices and styles unified around loss, struggle, trauma and perseverance make for a good poetry anthology, but the blunt force of what these authors say--sometimes as their last words--make for a sobering cultural commentary. I checked this one out from the library, but I would happily own a copy.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    I love the concept of this book. I would have loved the book itself even better if it were not so bulky but maintained a specific focus on powerful poems of witness against (not just ABOUT) war/violence.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Well the poetry is haunting and the background stories will likely make you angry that people can be so evil; yet we keep trying to overcome. Nice to read if I feel complacent. I don’t normally like anthologies, but this is one I’ve kept because of the wide range of poets and their stories.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    A lyric poet tries realism and does very well at it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cyanne

    This is a great collection that spans a variety of conflicts and historical events.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    I took her poetry seminar at Georgetown... really an amazing, inspiring person and poet.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chanti

    "... Giving testimony to the poetic imagination seared by the fire of human suffering."

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joanna Chen

    A book to return to.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eric Mueller

    So much great work and such a wide variety. This anthology has the potential to keep one occupied for months.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Solla

    This is really poetry that matters, not experiments in form, but written for survival of the spirit.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Glen Gersmehl

    amazing, and amazingly good anthology of poetry on human rights

  28. 4 out of 5

    Azure

    Re-read this. Still love it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jecripps

    I keep returning to this and to the poetry of Carolyn Forche. I love this anthology and I love her work!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    This. Is. A. Book. I. Will. Read.

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