Carolyn Forche – The Country Between Us

The Country Between Us

For a while now, “As Children Together” has been my favorite poem. Literally, out of the countless poems I’ve read in order to learn my craft better, or experience the high of fantastic imagery, or listen to the rhythm of my very own heart written into a rhythm of words, this poem has always spoken to me the most.  I’ve read a lot of poems that can easily go into my top five, but “As Children Together” hasn’t been beaten for at least three years now (which in the grand scheme of things really isn’t that long of a time).

However, with all the complaining I do about writers not actually reading (thus why literary magazine subscriptions are so low, but the amount of submissions are so high) I never actually picked up The County Between Us.  So, in an effort to not be such a hypocrite, and to also experience the other poems that are in this 1981 poetry collection…I ordered it for two dollars and thirty-eight cents on amazon and let it sit on my bedroom floor, the carpet soaking up the poetry, for about a month.

After taking this fiction writing workshop in NY, I decided it was time to read some good poetry and so I’ve read about five books of poetry in the last two weeks.  Carolyn Forche’s, The County Between Us, I saved for last.

It was definitely a case of “saved the best for last.”

This book BLOWS MY FREAKING MIND.  Forche not only holds the title of having my favorite poem in a collection, but this is definitely my favorite collection, and she has become my favorite poet.  I love when poets wait it out, and produce books after years of scrupulous revisions in an effort to create a book where not even one poem is just “okay,” or “ehhhh.”  In The County Between Us, every single poem, long or short, about a war, or about a man, about another country or about sitting in your kitchen watching the light through your windows, is out of this world.  If everyone in the world could write like Forche, we’d all be literary geniuses, but we’d also, all be completely and utterly in love with each other.

Yes, these are poems about “the other,” poems about experiencing an entire country between you, and everything, and nothing, or just feeling like there’s nothing you can do in Salvador (for example), when you are living as a “freedom child” of the United States.  This is a letter to the world about the tortured ears on a Colonels’ dining room table while simultaneously a letter to her best friend about her time in Paris and their past as young women, wishing and flouncing in Catholic dance halls.  All of it is; doing something to feel like your somewhere else.  (Which is at the very core of a good book, is it not)?

After reading this book, I sat there for twenty minutes thinking about how I could stalk Carolyn Forche until I ran into her on the street, with her newspapers and cigarettes tucked under her armpit, against her ribs, and I could introduce myself.  Like a fourteen-year-old, tell her I’m her biggest fan with pink embarrassed cheeks.  Tell her that her verse is tattooed on my hip bone and it hurt like hell.  (Not yet, or every maybe, but good thought).  That I love her, her button up shirt on the cover and the countries that are no longer between us looming larger and more fearful.

But, that’s creepy.

So, I’ll do the second best option and tell you to buy this book.  Spend the five.ninety.nine on Amazon.com and underline the words in your favorite pages, sticky note the side margins, scribble something you want to try like “speech, or conversation in a poem.”  You will not regret this purchase, and if you do, I guarantee your money back (because I can actually do that, hah).  But, I do guarantee you will be changed as a person.

Here, are a few of my favorite quotes:

  • “her eyes, her hair,/both violent, as black/as certain mornings have been for the last fourteen years.” (10, “The Island,” The Country Between Us)
  • He spilled many human ears on the table.  They were like/dried peach halves.  There is no other way to say this.” (16, “The Colonel,” The Country Between Us)
  • the silk flags of the non-/aligned nations like colorful underthings/ pinned to the wind.” (27, “Endurance,” The Country Between Us)
  • We meet on the shaking platform,/the wind’s broken teeth sinking into us.” (46, “For The Stranger,” The Country Between Us)
Here is a Carolyn Forche quote on poetry in Poetry Magazine:
“Poetry begins in a not-knowing rather than a moral impulse. A poet’s consciousness is, in this sense, improvisational and open to transformations, felicitous accidents, and an intuitive response to language generating meaning and music—that is true whether the spark igniting the poem comes from a word, a phrase, an image, or a moment in experience, present or remembered. This spark is what Mandelstam calls poryv, or impulse, and what Emerson thinks of as what is oldest and best in us, the alien visitor. This not-knowing is a hovering and receptive state of consciousness without intention (in the traditional meaning of that word).”

Carolyn Forché, in an interview with Poetry Magazine
Side note to this blog: How much different would this title be (in meaning) if it was “A Country Between Us” rather than “The Country Between Us?”  Who knew these articles that we take for granted everyday can have such a strong resonance somewhere…
I’ve also started a new challenge…100 books in a year (2011) challenge sponsored here.  I’m three a way from my original goal of 60 and so I thought I should really push myself.  Oh goodness.

4 thoughts on “Carolyn Forche – The Country Between Us

  1. bea mannes says:

    What a great blog, and review. I will have to read this book of poems. It is obvious that the poet really touched you in many ways. Keep reading and keep reviewing, and keep letting us know how you feel about your books.

  2. Elisabeth Kinsey says:

    I, too, have always been amazed by Carolyn Forche and made it the most important thing I did at AWP – The entire crowd cried while she read a poem about a house with shingles…anyway. She is both a wonderful person and poet. I have always loved The Moose by Elizabeth Bishop. I always marvel at the visceral response I have to this poem.

    • Cassie says:

      Elisabeth,

      Ahhhh you’ve met her? And I could totally see everyone crying over her poetry. It’s just so raw. I might have to go to AWP this year just to see if she’s there, haha. That would be the ultimate idol meeting.

      I am going to read “The Moose” right now and I’ll let you know how I love it (I’m sure I will).

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