Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500 – 2001


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Carolyn Forche interviewed about Poetry of Witness on PBS NewsHour: youtube.com/watch?v=IqLszwR7fkk
A groundbreaking anthology containing the work of poets who have witnessed war, imprisonment, torture, and slavery.
A companion volume to Against Forgetting, Poetry of Witness is the first anthology to reveal a tradition that runs through English-language poetry. The 300 poems collected here were composed at an extreme of human endurance--while their authors awaited execution, endured imprisonment, fought on the battlefield, or labored on the brink of breakdown or death. All bear witness to historical events and the irresistibility of their impact. Alongside Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth, this volume includes such writers as Anne Askew, tortured and executed for her religious beliefs during the reign of Henry VIII; Phillis Wheatley, abducted by slave traders; Samuel Bamford, present at the Peterloo Massacre in 1819; William Blake, who witnessed the Gordon Riots of 1780; and Samuel Menashe, survivor of the Battle of the Bulge.

Poetry of Witness argues that such poets are a perennial feature of human history, and it presents the best of that tradition, proving that their work ranks alongside the greatest in the language.

"Carolyn Forche's monumental Against Forgetting: Poetry of Witness was one of the twentieth century's last great books of poetry, one of few volumes in the English language which could claim to change the way my generation viewed poetry in translation from around the world. In this sequel we are given an inexhaustible, indispensable follow-up -- a collection of voices in English that illuminate human terror . . . This book, so passionately and masterfully edited, shows English poetics anew. It shows canonical voices such as Keats and Donne from a completely different perspective and it reintroduces contemporary readers to the genius of some unjustly neglected poets who, out of war and barbarism, out of terror and fear, composed a new music for human survival." Ilya Kaminsky


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