But the question that loops through the American male psyche, even still, asks, What can an American woman know, especially a young American woman, about the male business of American foreign policy? Can I put it on the list? They guided my reading too. I tried to explain that it was different here. When I went out into the world, I discovered that not everyone knew when it was Advent or that there was a Gaudete Sunday. Everything included announces an absence. She seemed to be a prominent poet from Central America and was living in exile in Majorca. Many of the people I write about in my memoir are dead. He was a brilliant, wonderful scholar.
You must go there sometime. Forché: We may have been drawn together in part because we understood each other as no one else did. It was a blizzard, so I wrote the poem about snow. And then I went to teach in the prisons. No one sane would do that. Eliot later changed his mind.
Monsignor Romero helped, I think. Forché: It was frightening at times for her and for us. And he just looked at me, and I realized that something had happened inside of him. The price for this was that I was no longer able to write. But I emerged from that summer wanting to do something. Everything that he thought would happen, that he predicted would happen, did, but much sooner.
We were completely stunned that no one bothered us and no one else came. I began participating on panels with Geoffrey Hartman and others. What happened in the twentieth century that we arrive at this idea of art as apolitical? It was really comic what happened between us because he not only thought that you could write about whatever you wanted in poetry, he thought it happened fairly quickly. It was being written about in the newspapers. He was very proud of having a poem written about him.
Instead of having a beautiful and wondrous summer, although it was so in many ways, I became depressed. I was writing a lot of poetry, and then the nuns had us writing paragraphs. Carolyn Forché: I think the idea of Poetry of Witness was misunderstood in some ways. I still have the problem of not feeling joy at publication. Many of the older professors were dismissive of living writers and poets. Margarita was still there, Monsignor was dead, some of the nuns were dead.
Forché: The curfew was—what were we doing? I was uncomfortable most of the time telling people in El Salvador that I was a poet because I thought it was much more important in the context of that poverty and oppression to be a doctor or a human rights lawyer, or something like that. Forché: One day, Daniel Simko, the Slovak American poet and my former student, was with me alone all day there. I was working on my third book of poems, The Angel of History. No one imagined that I might be tired of tortillas and black beans. I wondered what was meant by that. So it was all rather miraculous in a way. Forché: Well, I did receive support from some people, however.
You want to write genuine poetry, arising from the deepest well of your being, and to endure and work imaginatively and freshly in the language, with meditative attention to all that poetry entails, having to do with the structure of thought, the disclosure of mind, the music of the language, the resonances of the words, the etymological origins of the diction, all kinds of play. And he has helped me a number of times. Maya and I had met in San Diego, California, while I was teaching at San Diego State University. I had thought that, once I had published a book, poems would come so much easier, that I would just be able to write, because now I was a poet. A person of twenty-seven is not a child, but I was naïve and had never been to Europe before and knew nothing about the world yet; I now realize that I was simply unsophisticated. And then I wrote another and another. And it would affect the world not only in our time but in the times to come, because in Latin America, and in many other countries, and in our own country, I would argue, poetry does survive the age.
The English poet Robert Graves lived down the road, but he was already quite ill then. In an interview, he retracted those earlier critiques. With regard to the addendum that appears at the end of the interview, I emailed Carolyn following the recent election to ask her if she would like to comment on the results. But when I returned to Charlottesville, where I had been living, I said something about my new book to someone. What happened in the twentieth century that we arrive at this idea of art as apolitical? And also that it was controversial.