Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel”

So often when we think of journalism, a particular ubiquitous style comes to mind: that self-consciously economical voiceless voice hat strives for a kind of disembodied omniscience.  Of course, this mode of writing serves an important role and is useful and necessary.  Scanning the morning news would be a chore if every journalist strived for Jamesian diction.  Nevertheless, when I think of the pieces of journalism (and nonfiction that aims at something akin to documentary as well) that has meant something to me, it is usually the kind that quietly refuses to to hide the inherent subjectivity and humanity of the writer.  Denis Johnson‘s work comes to mind, as do that of John McPhee and Susan Orlean.  One piece–a  prose poem–stands out above them all: Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel.”  Even her choice of form here is defiant.  To document the atrocities of genocide in a poetic form!  She couldn’t have made a more effective or heart-wrenching decision.  To read more about Carolyn Forché and the history of this poem, click here.  To hear Forché read this poem, click here.

(This beautiful broadside is available through Jeff Hirsch Books in Evanston)


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