Article by Claire Garceau
The Visiting Writer Seminar at Walker’s is a course where students dive deep into studying a specific author for one semester. During the semester, we get the opportunity of hosting that author for an entire week. This semester, we had the privilege of hosting author and poet, Carolyn Forché. On her first day with us, Ms. Forché spoke about her experiences as a poet in El Salvador and answered our questions surrounding her surreal and meaningful experiences. Ms. Forché gave us insight on how she came into activism and the events that inspired her to be involved with human rights from a young age. Giving us details about her upbringing and how being in El Salvador expanded her perception of the world, Ms. Forché mentioned something particularly uplifting. The poet explained how she never quite envisioned herself to be a writer, and that she used to feel as if she could never have an impact on her surroundings. For me, learning how Ms. Forché came to be so politically and socially well-versed was deeply encouraging. Our class loved hearing about her “coming into consciousness” and awareness in terms of activism and humanitarianism. This specific conversation left many of my classmates inspired, including Sophia Botero, who added that Ms. Forché showed her that “you don’t need to travel to make a difference where you live. Ms. Forché’s inspiring words push me to excel as one of the heads of the Sustainability Club here on campus.”
In our second meeting with Ms. Forché, she talked to us about what it was like navigating her travels as an American, woman, and poet in another country. Since so many of her experiences included exposure to high degrees of violence, she discussed with our class the emotional aftermath of departing from El Salvador. Ms. Forché explained how she dealt with trauma and feelings of guilt having been so close to the community in El Salvador. These conversations widened my understanding of what it means to be on the front line of activism, and how violence truly affects all of those involved.
On our last day with Carolyn Forché, we practiced some great writing exercises. As someone who definitely has a hard time with writing poetry, these exercises helped. One of the writing exercises we could choose was to pick an emotion, make a list of practical or extraneous things that embody that emotion, and begin to write a poem. I loved this exercise because it helped me with structure and maintaining a consistent theme throughout my poem. Ms. Forché also gave us a few creative tools on how to branch out with our reading of different authors, such as reading a new writer’s works every season of the year.
During her Friday night reading for the school community, we had the opportunity to hear Ms. Forché read a variety of poems and excerpts from her memoir. Having read her memoir, listening to her read the passages helped me to understand the tones and moments of emphasis within the book even further. Ms. Forché’s cool and calm disposition showed during her address, encapsulating all of us as she read. When it came time for questions, the poet touched on specific details about her relationship with characters in the memoir. Ms. Forché spoke again on the nature of violence and how critical it is that we move towards a world where violence is denounced as a whole, whether that be personal, institutional, or systemic. Ms. Forché, however, lifted our spirits in regards to the future, saying that our generation is capable of moving society forward to create a kinder, less violent world. “How can I put it in phrases,” Senior Mo Mao stated, “Carolyn Forché’s visit is inspiring in the way that she shows me both parts of the horrible truth of the world we live in as well as the undeniable hope that shines within it.”